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From Chance Encounter to Friendship

A CINEMATIC VIEW

By Robert E. Lauder | October 1985

The Kiss of the Spider Woman is an excep­tionally good film. It represents a nearly perfect blend of plot, acting, writing, photography, and di­rection.

The plot involves two prisoners in an Argen­tine prison during the Argentine junta’s war against dissidents in the early 1970s. One prisoner is a po­litical prisoner, Valentin (Raul Julia); the other is a homosexual, Molina (William Hurt), who has been arrested for molesting minors. The film opens with some shots of the cell shared by the prisoners as we hear Molina narrate one of his favorite films to Val­entin. As the camera slowly moves around the cell — revealing the effeminate, affected Molina wearing lipstick and eye makeup and putting a red towel on his head so he can better act out the role of the movie queen in the film he is narrating, and show­ing the somewhat bored and angry Valentin listen­ing to the narration — we have received within a moment or two the key ingredients of this touch­ing drama. The rest of the film, while probing more deeply into each character, explores the developing relationship between the two men and illuminates the transforming power of their eventual friend­ship.

On its most radical level The Kiss of the Spi­der Woman is about what philosopher Martin Buber called an I-Thou relationship. The film power­fully portrays the almost magical changes that friendship can bring about in people’s lives. (Fran­cois Mauriac claimed that a chance meeting be­tween two people can have implications for eternity.)

An obvious accomplishment of the creators of the film is that, while capturing the claustrophobic experiences of being in a cell (I was reminded of the experience of being in a submarine conveyed in Das Boot), they are able to open the film so that it deals with issues that matter not just to cellmates but to all of us.

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