Wednesday, April 2, 2014

MM Movie Review: Juana la Loca

“Juana la Loca” or “Mad Love” as it was released in the United States is a 2001 historical drama and partial biopic of Queen Juana of Castile, the ill-fated royal to whom is owed the united Spain. Directed by Vicente Aranda and starring Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Daniele Liotti and Rosana Pastor the film earned three Goya awards for best actress, best wardrobe and best hair and makeup. I should say up front, for the benefit of the good people of Kansas, there is some nudity in this film and what I suppose would be termed “adult situations”. Personally, I thought there was nothing extreme about any of it but (apparently) I have a high tolerance for that sort of thing. Actual sexual relations are heard but never seen, there are bare buttocks a few times (male and female) and a few (never lengthy) instances of female frontal nudity. I found none of it offensive, in fact, the one scene that seemed the most “risqué” to me was one in which no nudity is seen at all but involves what I shall cautiously term the Queen expressing her availability to her husband. And the word “husband” is key here because the “mad love” of the title (in America at least) is the love of a wife for her husband, in this case Archduke “Philip the Handsome” of Austria and I imagine modern audiences might find that more shocking than anything. Queen Juana’s biggest “problem” is that she REALLY loves her husband!

Addressing the bridegroom
We start out being introduced to the young Infanta Juana being told by her mother, Queen Isabella of Castile (played by Susi Sanchez), that she is to go to Flanders to meet the man who will be her husband. She is naturally nervous about the whole process and that is conveyed really well and I thought the movie did a good job portraying Queen Isabella (one of my favorites), showing her as a caring mother but also a strong and practical monarch, a formidable woman who looked like she could have rode into battle against the Moors at any time. When the princess arrives in Flanders she quickly meets her husband-to-be, “Philip the Handsome” and from the actor chosen to portray him (Italian actor Daniele Liotti), I’m sure most of the ladies in the audience would swoon in agreement. However, there is no shortage of eye-candy for the men either (Pilar being quite the looker) and Philip is immediately taken with his dark-haired Spanish beauty and insists that they be married immediately -as in right then, in the room, at that moment, on the spot, with their public wedding ceremony to come later. The padre declares them man and wife and Philip sweeps up his overawed bride for a roll in the matrimonial hay. As practically everyone in the vicinity can clearly hear, the new bride enjoys this immensely and is head-over-heels, totally smitten with her new hubby.

I have to say at this point that there was some extremely good casting in this movie. Obviously, Pilar Lopez de Ayala carries most of the film and she is exceptionally great and flawlessly plays a part that is quite demanding, calling upon a wide range of emotion. Credit should also be given to Daniele Liotti as Philip. I do not know how accurate his portrayal was, but he did a great job I think in hitting the note the filmmakers wanted. His mannerisms, body language and “attitude” are those of a man most are probably familiar with. He is the “hunk” who all the girls are crazy about and who thinks any and all females he takes a liking to are his for the taking because, well, they usually are. His character actually came out much more complex than I was expecting from a film like this. He does not dislike his wife, on the contrary, as was shown in their first meeting, he finds her attractive and even as things begin to get worse, his feelings are mostly annoyance at her refusal to share him with other women and alarm at her behavior. He does become rather villainous ultimately, but is still never completely unable to generate some sympathy. He is encouraged and manipulated by other, seemingly more villainous people, he is vain but cannot help it and if he treats women as objects for his own enjoyment it is also made clear that this is because so many women have so willingly encouraged him to do so.

intimidating the competition
Back to the story, Juana is infatuated with her husband from day one and seems the happiest woman in the world. She wants him with her all the time and he seems to mostly return her feelings. Her behavior becomes more “strange” over time, or at least so we are meant to believe. In no time at all she is pregnant, the baby is born and rather before the pipes have had a chance to cool down, she is urging Philip to try for another. He holds back, however, because it would be bad for her health and we can all say ‘good for you Phil’ in our heads. However, it later becomes clear this is not because Philip is showing any self-discipline. He is dallying with one of the ladies at court and when Juana finds out she goes totally ballistic on the both of them and so the rumors of insanity first begin to appear. I have to add though, and this is one reason why I have always had a soft spot for ‘Juana la Loca’, there was really nothing unreasonable about her state of mind, even if she was a bit over-the-top in her actions. The woman loves her husband and does not want to share him with other women. What on earth is “crazy” about that? (-warning to the people of Kansas, I am going to be blunt in my language here-) Just from watching this film, one could take a different view and observe that Philip is married to a gorgeous princess who thinks the sun revolves around his pantaloons and who wants nothing more than to have as much sex with her husband as possible, yet he goes fooling around with other women. So why has no one ever accused Philip of being the insane one?! The vast majority of men on this planet would tolerate a great deal more erratic behavior than Juana was displaying for a wife so totally devoted and zealously affectionate as she was. In any event, the rumors of ‘Juana the Mad’ start to get around.

I put a spell on you...
Things get worse when her mother, Queen Isabella, passes away in 1504. Juana must return home to take up the duties of Queen of Castile because, as I am sure most monarchists will know, the unity of Spain achieved by Ferdinand and Isabella was matrimonial rather than political and so, officially, Juana became Queen of Castile while her father remained King of Aragon only. The Spanish people cheer and welcome their returning Queen and seem happy enough with her husband, the nominal King Felipe, as well. However, Queen Juana still has many problems. Her husband is soon bewitched, literally and figuratively, by a Moorish prostitute (Aixa played by Manuela Arcuri) who looks like the incarnation of every unrealistic body image ever had by every girl in history. Added to that is the fact that her own father, King Fernando V, is plotting to take control of Castile for himself and enlists Philip to his side to do it. The plan is to use the Queen’s erratic behavior (again, which basically comes down to really enjoying sex with her husband and being angry at his philandering) as grounds to have her declared insane. The problem is that, while Queen Juana knows her husband is fooling around with someone, she doesn’t know who that someone is and this political crisis rises up just as she is going most hysterical about the problem of her husband -which the audience at least knows she is perfectly right about.

the people and their Queen
So, as her Castilian courtiers are trying to awaken her to the danger posed by the Flemish faction around her husband and their attempts to seize power from the Queen, she is ranting and raving about finding the traitor in her household who is taking her place in the King’s embrace. At one point she even takes up a sword and wants to fight for him -proving, if nothing else, that she is her mother’s daughter. However, things are not going well for Philip either as he is basically being used by King Fernando and is himself rapidly exiting this mortal coil (perhaps by means of the witchery of his mistress?) and Queen Juana is not so removed from reality as her antics made people think. When the climactic moment comes, the heavily pregnant Queen dons her royal robes, emblazoned with the royal arms, and takes her place on the throne, demanding to know by what right her rule is being called into question. When the betrayal is pushed out into the light of day her cause seems lost but, in the end, the Castilian people love and support her and have no romance for Philip and the Flemish crowd.

I will not go into the ending in detail, most probably know the story and suffice it to say that, while the Queen “wins” in a way at her moment of trial, we all know what ultimately became of her and that her story is a sad one. I was just a little annoyed with the hints, at the ending, about her insanity when it seemed clear, to me at least (granted this is being written by someone regarded by the medical professionals as mentally unwell himself) that the movie was making the point that Queen Juana was not insane, just very, very, zealously in love with her husband. We, the audience, knew she was a little emotional but of sound mind, but we could see how others would take her antics for insanity. I would have preferred that the film would have simply left it at that. Still, on the whole, I thought it was good. Granted, I have a soft spot for Queen Juana and am eager for any cinematic portrayals from Spanish history but I thought it conveyed its message well. Although one can always quibble about historical accuracy with these things, I thought it was at least fairly just toward most of the characters. It obviously did not have the budget of a big, American film but it really didn’t show and all the actors gave excellent performances. If some of the more ‘earthy’ moments do not put you off, it gave a sympathetic portrayal of an unfortunate Spanish queen, showed how loyal and devoted to the monarchy her people were and highlighted a figure without whom the Kingdom of Spain would not exist.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, have never believed Juana to be loca, however, I do think she was emotionally unstable.

    When Phillip died early, she refused to leave his corpse for quite a number of days orc weeks -:I don't quite remember the time frame.

    And while I don't condone Phillip taking mistresses, it certainly was very, very common for the time. In fact many royal mistresses had just as much power as the wives. In some cases - like Diane dePoitier (sp?) - more. Juana would've been raised on how a royal lady deals with this. Like her sister Catherine of Aragon.

    I have no desire to see this film, as I always thought Phillip, Ferdinand, and even her son Charles V, bit of jerks on how they treated her.


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