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Where do I even begin with this film? It held such promise, but delivered so little — that’s why it ends up on Snark Week. So, let’s go over the basics: when the Mad Love / Juana la Loca (2001) opens, we see Juana of Castile, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, being shipped off (literally) to Flanders to marry the impossibly hunky Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy.
Juana’s allegedly sheltered, but apparently is a massively repressed sex addict, triggered by the revelation that Philip is a love machine. Mind you, the only proof of which that we, the viewers, have is that they’re both lying naked on the bed, presumably after sexy times has occurred (maybe I’m just turning into a dirty old woman, but FFS, SHOW ME THE GOODS). Juana, perhaps foreshadowing the “mad” label she’s going to acquire very shortly, transforms from a sweet little Spanish princess into a sex-obsessed psycho-hose-beast whose super-fecundity leads her to give birth on the toilet at one point, and, in a scene that you cannot unsee, severs the umbilical cord with her teeth.
That’s all in the first 25 minutes, and the crazy doesn’t stop there.
I think I’m supposed to feel my heartstrings being yanked as Juana goes about screaming in the rain that she’s mad after she finds out her mother is dead, and then promptly finds her husband in the arms of another woman, but … Ugh. Philip is, at most, two-dimensional, and Juana is not so much driven mad by love for Philip as she is petty jealousy. She claims she’s mad with passion for Philip, but I just see a lot of screaming and throwing stuff, mutual spousal abuse, and frankly, she seems more like a two-year-old having a meltdown because she can’t have Philip at her beck and call constantly, than a woman who is so madly in love with her husband that she can’t deal with reality.
Also, yeah, the whole “he gets to sleep with whomever he pleases while she has to sit around waiting for him to come to her” sucks, but it’s not exactly a good reason to just flip the switch into full-on psycho abusive behavior, which is basically how this movie portrays her “madness.” Philip gets her pregnant, starts sleeping around, and then all of a sudden Juana is balls-to-the-wall violently abusive. The characters never actually develop any kind of relationship that would make me feel like there’s been a betrayal worthy of losing one’s shit.
So, I asked myself, “Could it get any worse?”
Philip suddenly and inexplicably falls in love with a Moorish prostitute/practicing Satanist who puts a curse on him, for some reason that isn’t fully understood. I think we’re supposed to infer that Philip’s illness is the result of this curse, but to what point and purpose? Aixa, the prostitute, gets a position as one of Juana’s ladies-in-waiting, so cursing him to die is only going to completely undermine her prospects at court. The whole “putting Satan’s curse on Philip” plot line just seems like it was thrown in there to play for cheap xenophobic thrills. In reality, Philip slept with enough women to legitimately die of some horrible sexually transmitted infection, so why put the curse of Satan on him when nature is already going to take care of the philandering jerk for us?
Ferdinand, Juana’s father, is thrown in mid-way through the film without really any introduction. He informs Philip that he is absolutely 110% down with having Juana declared crazy and locked away forever, and even hints at the idea that Philip can have the marriage annulled, thereby freeing him to marry again (to the Satan-worshiping Moorish prostitute? I guess anyone is better than crazy-pants Juana).
This foreshadowing of the same ordeal that Juana’s little sister, Catherine of Aragon, would experience with her husband Henry VIII is a little far-fetched for my tastes. There is some truth to the notion that Philip may have eventually tried annulling his marriage on account of Juana’s madness had he lived, but there’s no real proof he ever intended to go that far. Juana had already given him three healthy heirs by that point, two of whom were male. So, annulment just doesn’t make sense, let alone it being proposed by Juana’s father. Ferdinand was only King of Castile by right of his wife, so his only claim to that kingdom would now be through his daughter. Severing that link by encouraging his son-in-law into an annulment is just plain stupid.
But what is most offensive is that as this conversation is taking place THEY ARE CHOWING DOWN ON TURKEY LEGS WITH THEIR HANDS. LIKE, WTF IS THIS EVEN?
Meh Costuming in Mad Love
Alright, scripting and acting aside, let’s talk a bit about the costuming. Over all, I’d say it’s an ok-to-decent costuming flick. There were a few WTF moments, but that’s where the bar is set these days so, meh. Also, this is a movie set in late 15th-century Spain — an era and locale particularly known for it’s bizarre sartorial trends.
The menswear was good, albeit so costume-y that it was obvious even on the shitty streaming copy on Amazon Prime Video (try to find an actual DVD copy of this film, because I’m pretty sure at least 25% of my irritation with it came from the downright crappy 15 year old VHS rip that Amazon is renting for $2.99). I did notice that Philip was cavorting around on horseback without any hose, which had to chafe.
The female costumes were a mixed bag of “Hey, that’s not half bad” and “The Tudors in Spain.”
In the good category, we have the ladies-in-waitings’ outfits. Quite appropriate for c.1500 Spain/Flanders.
And in the “Oh honey, no” category, we have Juana’s truly unfortunate French Hood, which suffers from 1) being 50 years ahead of fashion for c. 1500; and 2) IS A FREAKING VISOR COVERED WITH GOLD BROCADE.
Mostly, Juana’s outfits are decent enough to make me sigh and shake my head, but not so bad as to make me want to throw things at the TV. I mean, at least the costumer gave us one of those Spanish gowns with the freakishly long undersleeves:
The costumes that we glimpse on Juana’s siblings as they see her off to Flanders are, again, 50 years in the future, with the exception of perhaps the gown on the far left. But they’re more of the generic variety of “renaissance” gown so, meh. I’m waving them on through.
I will also give props to Artiñano for clearly attempting to reference portraits and statues of Juana in his costume designs.
So, my recommendation is to give this movie a shot, only if you 1) have a proper DVD copy of it so you can at least appreciate the scenery; and 2) aren’t bothered by the spouse abuse.
Did you watch Juana la Loca? Did you like or want to snark it?