Mad Love

(Juana de Loca)

Joan loves her husband more than anything else in the world. Her love for him is so strong that she calls it a madness of sort, a near obsession with him. Joan (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Kisses for Everyone, Bailame el Agua) also happens to be a Princess, the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (of Columbus fame). Mad Love is Joan's story, told in the revisionist style that always seems to change these women from Europe of long ago to modern-thinking, headstrong women. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. For writer/director Vicente Aranda (Jealousy, The Naked Eye), this means tweaking history just enough to turn Mad Love into something more superficial. It's like the film version of those romance novels with the 'clench' covers that abound in bookstores.

The story begins near the end of the fifteenth century. Isabella decides to marry Joan of Castile to Philip the Handsome (Daniele Liotti, Days of Grace) to form a political alliance with the Hapsburgs. This is a marriage of convenience, not one of love. Yet the two manage to fall in love with each other. At this point, Joan is fourth in line for the throne of Castile. In the next couple of years, through a series of tragic deaths, she begins Queen of Castile. She and Philip move back to Spain to begin their reign in 1504. Later, she would be declared mad, and locked away in the castle for the rest of her life. The events leading up to this declaration is probably where Aranda 'retells' history the most.

There is a reason Philip is called "the Handsome," not unlikely because of his chiseled body, smoldering eyes, and flowing tresses. Liotti looks like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. The attraction between Joan and Philip is immediate, and they enjoy showing their affection for each other loudly and often. However, Philip is merely eye candy, having nothing much else going on upstairs. He is not satisfied with just Joan, and cheats on her behind her back. This drives Joan insane. How can he wander when she is willing to give him more love than is humanly possible? Instead of hating him, she wants to do what she can to win his love back. In a way, it is her delusion that Philip will return to her.

Aranda never gives any attention to why the people around Joan think she is mad. The way that he presents it, she was grossly misunderstood. This makes her look normal and everybody else look kooky, and that doesn't make that much sense, and is probably the main weakness of the story. Okay, she is outspoken, wants to breastfeed her baby, and has a temper, but that isn't too far out of the ordinary. The court and people around her make it seem like a cardinal sin. On the other hand, her extreme focus on winning back Philip does cause her to act erratically towards some of the nobles, causing them to think she is crazy. Mad Love shifts moods in the end towards politics, and some of the behind-the-scenes power grabs for the throne, Aranda is never able to get audiences to believe this given his penchant for bodice-ripping action in the beginning. But what he does do is give Lopez de Ayala a great role, where she successfully shifts among a wide range of emotions, and also must handle Joan changing from an innocent princess to a regal queen.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated R for sexuality, nudity.

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