Released just seven years after the death of General Franco, Labyrinth of Passion
confirmed Pedro Almodóvar as an important voice within the new democratic
Spain, infusing his films with musical and sexual counter-cultures, controversy and
colour, and no little farce.
Labyrinth of Passion contains many of Almodóvar’s obsessions, which would become
familiar, featuring overtly sexualised women, drag queens, and New Wave counter-culture
in a screwball narrative in which Riza Niro, the gay son of the emperor of Tiran, disguises
himself as a punk rock singer to avoid a group of terrorists and forms his first heterosexual
relationship with the nymphomaniac Sexilia. The film’s opening shot, of a man’s
crotch seen from Sexilia’s perspective, sets the tone with just the barest of restraint.
Almodóvar seems here to be incubating the madcap style of his later Eighties work,
particularly Women on the Verge here: despite the extravagant plot elements, Labyrinth
of Passion is not an overly fast-paced film. Almodóvar builds interpersonal connections
slowly, keeping the viewer interested by combining striking visual images (such as Riza in
New Romantic style drag posing for a camera) with shocking narrative elements, such as
the incestuous rape of Queti by her father, who is pursued by her somewhat hysterical
psychotherapist, or the shots of the punk band taking cocaine.
Like the early New Romantic bands, Labyrinth of Passion strives for middle ground
between art and pop, infusing his films with homosexual and transgender behaviour and
culture rather than ideological critique to undermine social conservatism. The film serves
as a fascinating insight into how Almodóvar’s style, a symbol of the new, democratic Spain
(and often an implied demand for further liberalisation), even if Almodóvar’s attempts to
fuse art and pop became more successful later in his career.
Labyrinth of Passion
Spain 1982, 94 minutes