Labyrinth of Passion (Spain, 1982):
(Laberinto de Pasiones)

Pedro Almodóvar's polysexual gaze is established in shifting POVs under the credits, male crotches cruised equally by the main characters, leggy nympho Cecilia Roth and Imanol Arias, a gay Middle Eastern prince incognito in the punk Madrid of the early '80s. The two aren't officially introduced until later, after a rocker's broken leg lands Arias on the stage at a punk-rock concert; afterwards, she's sandwiched between two louts and he's got another singer's head bobbing between his thighs, yet they remain now in each other's minds. Even (or, rather, especially) amid all the grunginess, romanticism seeps through, further extended to the narrative's countless digressions -- Helga Liné, a former Tiranian empress donning Dietrich-Bowie drag to prowl queer corners, reigns lavishly Italian; Marta Fernández Muro's middle-aged papa insists on her as his wife so, when the anti-arousal drops don't work, she is dutifully tied to the bed for her daily dose of ravishment; Antonio Banderas' overdeveloped olfactory glands put him in charge of sniffing out Arias for a group of would-be terrorists, only Banderas has fallen in love with his target. Elsewhere, Fabio McNamara mimics gore-drenched ecstasy while Almodóvar orchestrates his Driller Killer gag on the screen, then the two rush to the mike for their screeching vamping of "Suck It to Me," merely one of many samples of the director's underground élan. "Such a gay city," but Roth's doctor dad (Fernando Vivanco) prefers studying artificial insimination to joining in the flesh, dropping in hints for his daughter's past (a day at the beach, a sunlight phobia, "everybody's wife") and the seeds of the melancholy that offhandedly pierces through the filmmaker's frivolity. The big event is Almodóvar's discovery of Feydeauesque structure without sacrificing the celebratory raunchiness of Pepi, Luci, Bom, a post-Franco labyrinth open to one and all, so that even Vivanco can be romanced by Ofelia Angélica, a Lacanian by way of Ruben. The frantic airport chase is Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown rehearsed, still at a time when the dizziness could be spiked with a true laxative gag. With Ángel Alcázar, Concha Grégory, Christina Sánchez Pascual, Luis Ciges, and Agustín Almodóvar.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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