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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

'Mad Love' mixes history and wild, modernistic romance

By Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times

 •  'Mad Love'

R (for sexuality and nudity)

117 minutes

In Spanish with English subtitles

When Juana, the Infanta of Spain, first encountered Philip of Flanders — not for nothing known as Philip the Handsome — this was not some random 1496 version of a cute meet. The formal get-together as well as the couple's earlier engagement had been meticulously planned like the state events they were, part of a calculated political alliance between the rulers of Spain and the Hapsburgs of Central Europe.

But that doesn't stop the lusty "Mad Love" from staging the whole thing like a rock star's wedding. Here's the hunky Philip (Daniele Liotti), a Fabio look-alike down to his mane of curly hair, and the fresh-faced beauty Juana (Pilar L—pez de Ayala), giving each other looks steamy enough to boil holy water.

The next thing you know, Philip demands that a handy padre marry them on the spot, gives Juana a major kiss in front of God and everyone, and then carries her off to have sex so hot the ladies-in-waiting line up to eavesdrop on their passion. As Mel Brooks once said, it's good to be the king.

"Mad Love" is very much based on fact — Philip and Juana were 18 and 16 when they married — but it is more interested in being the kind of full-bodied historical romance where people say things like, "Send the swiftest horseman, you have to get this news to Flanders."

Written and directed by 76-year-old Vicente Aranda, a veteran Spanish filmmaker, in a style that is half-modern, half-traditional, "Mad Love" succeeds as a full-bodied diversion because it takes even its silly elements seriously. If you're in the mood for impressive castles and sumptuous costumes, torch-lit processions and decorative nudity, this is the place to turn.

"Mad Love" also benefits from a fiery performance by Lopez de Ayala, who won the Silver Seashell for best actress at last year's San Sebastian film festival. She brings passion and conviction to the part of Juana (anglicized to Joan in the English-language version), a hotblooded type who would have benefited from one of those "Women Who Love Too Much" books if they'd been around in the 15th century.

As noted, things start off well between Juana and Philip, but no matter how steamy those nights in Brussels got, the monarch, though undeniably cute, turns out to be an incorrigible womanizer incapable of fidelity. When he gets involved with the smoldering Aixa (Manuela Arcuri), his wife gets seriously unhappy.

The queen, in fact, got so irritated at her husband that she went down in history as Juana La Loca, Juana the madwoman. "Mad Love," however, in one of its few revisionist touches, sees her in a different light.

To Aranda, Juana is simply a quintessential modern woman born centuries before her time. She embraces her sexuality, is not ashamed to breast-feed her children though the court frowns on it, and demands commitment from her spouse.

If she gets, shall we say, a teensy bit overwrought about her man's compulsive straying, who's to blame her?

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