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Rewatching the Queer Canon: Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘Law of Desire’

Rewatching the Queer Canon: Pedro Almodóvar’s 'Law of Desire'

In “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” the black-and-white behind-the-scenes chronicle of the diva’s provocative Blond Ambition World Tour, there’s a segment where our popstar from another planet is finally united with her movie star crush at a Madrid dinner party. 

“He’s in all of Pedro Almodóvar’s movies and I love Pedro’s movies and so I’ve seen every movie that Antonio’s ever done. I have to say he is one of the few actors — movie stars, ever, that I was really dying to meet.”

In the documentary, Madonna is forlorn to discover that her beloved wears a wedding ring on his finger, and is therefore unavailable to her excessive flirting. This may have come as a surprise because, on the screen in which she fell for him, Antonio Banderas wasn’t going to bed with his gorgeous Spanish wife Ana Leza. He was going to bed with men.

There was the one role that purportedly sent Madonna over the edge. As the villain of Almodóvar’s “Law of Desire,” Señor Banderas plays a dashingly pathological young man having recently given into homo tendencies whilst falling in heavy love with film director Pablo (Eusebio Poncela). After a torrid one-night stand and its ensuing affair, Antonio is obsessed, but Pablo is tiring of the casual sex to remain fixated upon the true love of his life, Juan. The triangle broadens as Antonio goes away and the filmmaker corresponds with his two boys separately via love letter — like proper summer camp sweethearts torn by season’s end. In the meantime Pablo’s typewriter is occupied by the roles he writes for his sister, a transgender woman played by Carmen Maura; she achieved minor gay icon status for this character. 

As the first film of Almodóvar’s to find real success on the film fest circuit and outside of Spain, “Law of Desire” thoroughly exhibits those stylisms by which we have come to know the director. It’s immensely colourful, with fashion-mag-meets-comic-book mise-en-scène. It’s thrilling, the plot unfolding like pages in an airport paperback — or perhaps, given all the sultry intercourse, a harlequin romance gone wrong. The slew of characters includes Catholics, transsexuals, thespians, and junkies. All of this culminates to an ensemble climax worthy of the movie’s collective sexcapades. 

This picture has also come to be known as one of many firsts for our Pedro. It was his first explicitly homosexual film, to be followed by the likes of “All About My Mother” and “Bad Education.” Although his sixth feature, it was the first of his career to be produced by his own company. Lastly, “Law of Desire” is thought to be the filmmaker’s first of many attempts to portray himself — via the movie director character. Spanish headlines were made for Banderas’ gay kiss, and thus his name continued to expand until a few short years later, despite his poor English, he was playing Tom Hanks’ lover in “Philadelphia.” The next picture Almodóvar locked, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, would be nominated for an Academy Award.

An absolute one-of-a-kind legend of our time, in both cinema and queer art, turns 65 today. We heart you so, so much Pedro.¡Feliz cumpleaños!

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