Law of Desire: 2011 AFI Fest

By Meredith Alloway · November 9, 2011

Once the credits started rolling after the film ended, my first thought was, “How have I never seen this film?” Law of Desire was released one year before I was born, in 1987. I’ve had twenty-three years to catch up; I should’ve had more Almodóvar in my life and less MTV.

The film, as writer/director Pedro Almodóvar discussed during the interview before the screening, dealt with issues that Spanish cinema had been turning a blind eye to for years. The subject matter was provocative in the 80s, and still maintains its risk factor today. It revolves around a gay successful filmmaker, Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela) who is dealing with the creation of his new screenplay along with his affair with a young man names Juan (Miguel Molina). His sister Tina (Carmen Maura) is his closest companion both artistically and emotionally, and has a plethora of problems of her own. Tina’s last love affair abandoned her, leaving her to look after her daughter.

We’ve learned that Pablo will take pretty much any attractive man home, whether he meets him at a bar or on the street. One night, he takes the wrong guy home – you guessed it – the young, volatile Antonio (Antonio Banderas). Honestly, who could resist? Antonio is a huge fan of Pablo’s work and agrees to go home with him, although he’s never been with a man before. After a night together, Antonio becomes obsessed, telling Pablo, “ I want to know everything about you.” In the beginning, Antonio’s snooping through Juan’s love letters and stalking Pablo after dark just seem like the actions of a young fool in love: harmless.

As the film progresses, desires become deeper and the characters each more dangerous. At one point you think, “Did that just happen? I had no idea this was a horror film.” But the blurring of genre lines that Almodóvar speaks about proves successful. He is able to establish such intriguing, developed characters, each with extremely strong motivations; you believe they could honestly do anything to achieve their goals.  Almodóvar plays with the idea that desire is the strongest driving force in life, and the actions of his characters can only remain logical through this statement.

If I told you in a few words what the film was about, you’d never believe it was comical. But it is. Life is never wholly tragic or wholly humorous; it possesses elements of both. Almodóvar finds the light heart in every character, even through their most heavy times. At the end of the film, when the stakes are high and multiple lives at risk, you find yourself laughing. Not at the characters or their goals, but at the situation, at how ridiculous life can be.

It’s clear why Law of Desire launched the career of one of the most respected filmmakers of our time. It deals with controversial issues of obsession, love, and sex in an unabashed fearless manner, and it never takes itself too seriously. And it’s far from pretentious. Almodóvar illustrates human life as truthfully as possible, all the mess, the failure and the humor intact.