mad love [juana la loca] (2002)


director: vicente aranda

pilar lópez de ayala, daniele liotti, manuela arcuri

The story of Mad Queen Joan, daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, is a compelling one, and from moment to moment, it’s possible to glimpse it in Vicente Aranda’s lush but inert re-telling of this true story of one woman’s overwhelming passion for her husband.

Joan, raised at the austere Spanish court, is married to Philip the Handsome (the suitably cast Daniele Liotti), son of the Holy Roman Emperor. She’s taken with the hedonism of his court in Flanders, but utterly obsessed with her husband, a dashing but unworthy young man surrounded by scheming advisers. When her mother dies, Joan becomes Queen of Castile, and once back in Spain, she discovers her husband betraying her with a Moorish dancer.

Joan is played by Pilar Lopez de Ayala, a young actress whose immense talent is held fast by Aranda’s plodding direction. As Joan’s “madness” - an erotomania that manifests itself in uncontrollable jealousy - takes her over, Ayala is often lunging at the camera in rage and desperation, but one can’t help but imagine that she’s trying, unhappily, to escape from the stately, uninspired camerawork and pacing of her director.

If Aranda had taken his film, even briefly, out of the atmosphere of the royal court, it might have had moments of vitality. If he’d let his camera or his editing mirror Joan’s frantic, agitated mindset, he might have given us some feeling for the young woman’s emotional agony. As it is, the film ends neatly, as trapped as Joan was for most of her life, an old woman locked away in a castle.