Greatest Film Scenes
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Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

In Argentinian-born director Hector Babenco's Brazilian/American co-produced melodramatic R-rated film - it was a small independent film based upon Manuel Puig's 1976 novel. It was historically important as one of the first (if not first) gay films that was heralded by the mainstream media. Although the film had one homosexual love scene, it was not on-screen and almost the entire film was devoid of sexual content. Its major themes were gender roles, toleration of differences, escapism from reality through fantasy (melodramatic film itself), oppression, political idealism, and betrayal.

The two major cellmates incarcerated in the 1970s in the same cell of a South American (Brazilian) prison (Pavilhao IV), who developed a deep friendship over time, were both 2nd class citizens living in a repressive political dictatorship:

  • Luis Molina (William Hurt with a Best Actor-winning performance) - a flamboyant, effeminate, tall, 41 year-old homosexual sex offender accused and convicted of "corrupting a minor" and sentenced to an 8-year prison term; he was a long, red tinted-haired drag queen and a great story-teller, and a former department store window-dresser
    [Note: Hurt's Oscar win made him the first actor in a gay role to win the honor (later this happened again for Tom Hanks for his role as AIDS sufferer in Philadelphia (1993)). His win defeated other nominees, including Harrison Ford for Witness, Jack Nicholson for Prizzi's Honor, Jon Voight for Runaway Train, and James Garner for Murphy's Romance.]
  • Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia) - a bearded, 34 year-old cynical political prisoner, leftist journalist and Marxist revolutionary, Luis' radical cellmate, who was jailed for inciting political unrest against the repressive government and became a martyr for the movement

Molina often entertained the two of them by fancifully escaping their predicament in prison and passing the time through story-telling: ("Why should I think about reality in a stinkhole like this?"), although Valentin objected and had various prohibitions for what could be described: "I told you, no erotic descriptions....Don't talk about food...I'm serious. No food and no naked women." Later, he criticized Molina for living in his fantasies: "You just use these movies to jerk yourself off."

Nonetheless, Molina continued to describe his fond memories of an old noirish B-film - a 1940s, anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda film. The remembered film - framed as a "film-within-a-film" - was shown as interspersed, sepia-toned "clips." It was a romantic thriller in which Leni Lamaison (Sonia Braga) in the Vichy-era French Resistance, first sensuously seen in a bathtub and then singing in a nightclub, fell in love with dashing and blonde Aryan officer Werner (Herson Capri) - Chief of Counter-Intelligence in France and an enemy Nazi SS soldier. Leni was portrayed as a femme fatale Spider-Woman - "the most ravishing woman in the world."

Also working for the Resistance with one of its patriot leaders Clubfoot (Antônio Petrin) was nightclub cigarette girl Michele (Denise Dummont). In Molina's film tale, Michele lost her life when she was deliberately run over by Clubfoot for engaging in a love affair with German lieutenant Hanschen. After Michele's death, Leni was reluctantly pressured by the rebels to acquire a secret map to the German arsenal from her lover Werner. She was romanced by Werner in his luxurious chateau, and fell in love with him, but realized she must betray him since he was in charge of executing Resistance patriots.

Characters in Molina's Remembered Nazi Propaganda Film

Leni Lamaison (Sonia Braga) in Bathtub

Chanteuse Leni in Parisian Nightclub

Werner (Herson Capri)

Michele (Denise Dummont)

Clubfoot (Antônio Petrin)

Nazi Officer Werner Ordering Executions

Later in the film, Molina described the Nazi film's ending. Leni asserted to Werner: "I refuse to love a man who is the butcher of my country." With government archival evidence, Werner was able to persuade her that his true mission was "to liberate humanity from injustice and domination" - resulting in the rekindling of Leni's love for him (she told him: "My love, how could I ever have doubted you?"). However, she was duplicitous and betrayed him in the dark castle of a Resistance leader (Nildo Parente) by turning over the secret map. In a surprise twist, when the sex-hungry Resistance leader assaulted her, she stabbed him in the back with a steak knife. She fled and rushed into Werner's embrace and kissed him, but then was shot by another dying patriot named Flunky (Wilson Grey) and perished in Werner's arms. Her life ended as Werner heard her singing about her sacrifice - "not in vain."

During Molina's interspersed film scene descriptions, Valentin was disgusted and repelled by both Molina's homosexuality ("You damn faggot!") and his trivial romanticization of Nazi fascist propaganda: ("Your Nazis are about as romantic as the f--king warden and his torture room....Fantasies are no escape"). One night he had a major outburst: "Don't you know what the Nazis did to people -- Jews, Marxists, Catholics? Homosexuals!"

When the self-hating Molina whimpered about being gay and feminine: ("That's what I am! That's what I am!"), Valentin tried to get Molina to accept his maleness:

Valentin: "What's this between your legs, huh? Tell me, 'lady'!"
Molina: "It's an accident. If I had the courage, I'd cut it off."

Valentin to Molina: "What's this between your legs, huh?"

When Molina helped Valentin cope with severe stomach poisoning and diarrhea, he learned the name of Valentin's current uneducated girlfriend Lidia who was "in the movement" and had written him a letter. Visualized in a second flashback (or film of sorts), Valentin described a former lover named Marta (also Sonia Braga), an upper-class bourgeoisie member who begged him to leave the movement. He would stay with her when forced to hide from the authorities, but then he was apprehended, tortured, and jailed immediately after providing a passport at a train station to an elderly revolutionary leader code-named Americo (Fernando Torres) - "one of the last surviving members of the original movement." He would never see Marta again. [Meanwhile, Americo was also brought bloodied and bruised to the prison and placed in a cell across the way from Valentin and Molina. At first he was hooded and not identifiable. After continued torture, he died and his cell was emptied, causing Valentin to be highly distressed by his passing.]

The film's plot twist was that in prison as he befriended Valentin, Molina was actually working undercover with the prison's corrupt Warden (José Lewgoy) and abusive, homophobic secret police officer Pedro (Milton Gonçalves), the one who had arrested Valentin at the train station. Molina's objective was to cautiously gather vital information from Valentin to help identify other traitors, accomplices, and anti-government groups. In exchange for betraying Valentin ("The quicker he talks, the quicker you get out"), he bargained for food and for early parole.

Just before being paroled, Molina imagined and spun a new film tale (with a bluish-purple tint) of tropical romance on a desert island - an allegorical tale about the two of them. The central character was a masked "strange woman" (again Sonia Braga) with a black gown, who "was caught in a giant spider web that grew from her own body." One night when a shipwrecked man (portrayed by Raul Julia) drifted onto the beach, she cared for him, "nourished him with love," and brought him back to life:

When he awoke, he gazed up at the Spider Woman and saw a perfect tear-drop slide from under her mask.

Gradually, the two prisoners had also become unlikely compatriots who ultimately developed compassion for each other. Molina was increasingly feeling conflicted about his deal to betray Valentin after falling in love with this "real man." When Molina suggested that they make love on his last night in prison: ("Do what you want with me, because that's what I want. If it doesn't disgust you"), Valentin complied, and they came together in the dark (off-screen).

Their Farewell Kiss in Their Prison Cell

Molina's Melancholy After Release

The film concluded with Molina's release (and a farewell kiss from Valentin). Molina was melancholy after his return to society and to his mother (Míriam Pires), as he often sat silent at a bay window looking out at the city. He was unaware that he was under surveillance by agents who wanted him to lead them to the cadre of Valentin Arregui.

Finally, he mustered the courage to make contact with the rebels (with a secret message from Valentin). He phoned from a subway pay-phone, and then withdrew wads of cash from his bank account to provide for his mother's care. After bidding goodbye to his mother, he wore a tell-tale red scarf to signal his identification to the rebels.

In the city streets and the busy town square, Molina was pursued by Pedro and other agents, as he made contact with Valentin's girlfriend Lidia (Ana Maria Braga) in a taxi. Gunfire erupted when the agents charged forward. Lidia's taxi took off as Molina fled from the agents. The taxi reappeared, and Lidia - who suspected he was an informant, shot and mortally-wounded Molina in the chest before racing away. His death mirrored the death of his heroine Leni in the Nazi propaganda film.

He was thrust into a car at gunpoint by Pedro and while he was dying, Molina self-sacrificially and heroically refused to divulge the phone number. Once his body went limp, he was dumped onto a pile of trash in a shanty-town. The authorities spread a false story about how he had collaborated with the extremist revolutionaries and was shot dead by them.

The same fate also arrived for Valentin back in prison - where he had been tortured mercilessly with electricity. A prison intern-medic in the infirmary decided to inject him with a potent overdose of a pain-killer (morphine), to release him into the escapist world of film (into a romantic paradise). His death was a replay of the short 'Spider Woman' film described earlier by Molina. [Note: Their roles were switched - Molina died a heroic death for a cause, while Valentin died escaping from life.]

Lidia (Ana Maria Braga) in Taxi

Molina Lethally-Wounded by Lidia

Valentin on Desert Island with Marta

As he appeared to possibly die in a fanciful delirium, Valentin's former lover Marta (Sonia Braja) came to him, happily ran with him hand-in-hand out of the prison, and brought him - as the Spider Woman - to the idyllic desert island setting where he was miraculously healed and she assured him after kissing:

"This dream is short, but this dream is happy."

Luis Molina (William Hurt)

Molina - Flashback as a Store Window Dresser

Molina - Flashback as a Gay Man

Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia)

Flashback: Valentin's Former Lover Marta (Sonia Braga)

Plot Twist: Molina Was an Informant for Pedro (l) and the Prison Warden (r)

The Telling of the End of Molina's Nazi Film Tale

The Melodramatic Death of Leni in Werner's Arms

Film Tale on a Tropical Island with Spider Woman and Shipwrecked Man

Molina's Confession of Love for Valentin

Molina's Heroic Attempt to Contact Rebels for Valentin - (Wearing Red Scarf)


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