, 102 min, 1987
Director: Pedro Almodóvar (as Pedro Almodovar)
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar (screenplay), Pedro Almodóvar (story)
Stars: Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas
Metafiction is nothing new to the Almodoverse and so, naturally, self-referential in-jokes and thinly veiled autobiography have become an integral part of some of his work. Unfortunately, all of these levels within levels, like a Russian Matryoshka (nesting cup) doll, work to keep we, the audience, at an emotional distance – or, perhaps, to mask the fact that under all the façade, there’s really not much there. Metafiction in film often involves multiple levels within levels of storytelling. Similarly, Almodovar’s Law of Desire begins multiple levels into its story.
A handsome young man steps into a room and an off-screen voice tells him to lie naked on a bed. Before long he is masturbating and it becomes somewhat clear that the off-screen voice is that of a director, making the young man an actor. Soon, it is revealed that this is part of a film and that the director of said film is watching it at its premiere. The name of the film?Law of Desire. And so you see: ‘round and ‘round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows. Almodovar’s film Law of Desire is thusly a film by a gay Spanish director about a gay Spanish director who makes a film called Law of Desire. Wrap your head around that, why don’t you? The film we are watching (Almodovar’s) concerns the plight of said director, Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela), who is deeply in…lust (?) with Juan (Miguel Molina), an unrequited object of affection who refuses to answer Pablo’s letters. Lucky for Pablo (?), he attracts the attention of handsome stalker/new object of affection Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who will do literally anything for him. This has the makings of a big gay soap opera…and so it is. Passions run rampant, resulting in death. However, Almodovar manages to keep the melodramatic material within a certain metafictional context. The self-referential nature of the film doesn’t stop with the plot and title, however, but even goes to some of the background technical content.
Consider: Not only does he use the same song from the end of his earlier film What Have I Done to Deserve This?! (1984) – not once, but twice! – but we even see a poster for that film at one point. To say nothing of the fact that Tina (Carmen Maura), Pablo’s transgender sister, appears to wear an apron near the beginning which may also utilize the Spanish language title of that film. Ironic?
Almodovar claims this is his most personal film and, in a sense, perhaps his favorite of his. Unfortunately, it may be too personal as it doesn’t pop off the screen or involve us in any more than a superficial way. Because it’s Almodovar, it’s still good, but a bit of a letdown from even his previous film Matador (1986). Sometimes an in-joke is too inside for its own good.