Mad Love Movie Review

For some reason, filmmakers become overly inspired when it comes to helming historical epics. In writer-director Vicente Aranda's interminable, labored, and lumbering celluloid soap opera Mad Love (aka Juana la Loca -- translation, Joan the Mad), he sets out to paint a lavish portrait of passion against the atmospheric Spanish background of late 15th century sensibilities. Although Mad Love boasts a radiant aura of visual sophistication, this 2002 Best Foreign Film nominee is lackluster.

Mad Love tells the sordid tale of Joan/Juana of Castile (Pilar López de Ayala), daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (the married monarchs who financed Christopher Columbus's boat ride to the New World in 1492). Juana ends up in a political marriage to Philip the Handsome (Daniele Liotti), the Archduke of Austria. Despite the arrangement, the couple manages to find a hidden mutual attraction. The result: six children. By this point, Juana is completely head-over-heels in love with Philip to the extent that it's obsessive. But Philip becomes noticeably indifferent toward his wife, dabbling in numerous adulterous affairs. Of course this adds to the increasingly insane jealously of Juana. An apparent emotional wreck, Philip's wife is due for a breakdown, and Philip looks to declare poor Juana legally insane and incarcerate her, thus giving him and his father a shot at the throne. But soon enough, Isabella dies, Philip dies, Ferdinand dies, and Juana gets shipped off to live in isolation before also dying, 40 years later.

Mad Love is an earnest yet misguided attempt for revered Spanish filmmaker Aranda to put his elaborate and detailed storytelling skills to use. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to execute a fiery fable dedicated about his country's past. But unfortunately Aranda's well-intentioned showcase is too ponderous and convoluted and comes off as just a decorative dud. More often than not, the performances throughout this dressy, overproduced saga are passable, especially López de Alaya's juicy turn as the delusional damsel in distress. Consequently, there are not enough genuine complexities within the film's many stock characters to take anything in Mad Love to heart. The material is bogged down in period piece prattle that often comes off as distractingly tacky, though the set design and score are quite grand.

Ultimately, Mad Love is a long-winded and stagy session of romantic contrivances that never really gels like the shrewd feminist fairy tale it could have been. The madness of one fragile woman is nothing more than a missed opportunity in what amounts to an uninspired dose of meandering bravado.

Off with her pony tail!


Mad Love Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2001


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