Mad Love (Juana la Loca)

reviewed by Steve Sailer

UPI, August 29, 2002


Because life is too short to spend any of it reviewing "Fear Dot Com," I went to see "Mad Love." I was sort of expecting a remake of the 1995 drama "Mad Love" in which a teenage girl (Drew Barrymore) falls in love with a handsome lunk (Chris O'Donnell), but then develops severe mental problems.

This "Mad Love," however, turned out to be a fairly good subtitled historical melodrama from Spain originally called "Juana la Loca," after the Castilian queen known to history by that name. Yet, although I was off by a half millennium, this art house "Mad Love" proved to have the same basic plot as Drew's "Mad Love."

Here, a princess falls in love -- not wisely but too well -- with her arranged bridegroom, Philip the Handsome, then seemingly goes off her rocker.

Pilar López de Ayala (who won the Goya award, the Spanish Oscar, for her performance) has lovely and spooky big dark eyes and pale skin, like an Iberian Winona Ryder. She plays Juana, who in 1496 is betrothed for reasons of state to a Hapsburg archduke in Brussels, the son of the emperor of the transnational Holy Roman Empire.

Juana doesn't want to leave Spain and her parents, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who are presumably resting up after their busy 1492, in which they drove the Muslims out of Spain, expelled the Jews, and financed Columbus' discovery of America.

Nor does Juana want to be separated from her siblings, including Catharine of Aragon, whose future failure to provide her husband, England's King Henry VIII, with a male heir would lead to England turning Protestant.

Duty, however, demands that Juana sail to Brussels to marry Philip the Handsome. The two teenagers are transfixed by each other's beauty, although since Phil looks like a young Fabio, this doesn't speak well for Juana's taste in men. The lusty archduke refuses to wait a week for the bishop to marry them in the planned royal ceremony, so a court priest, quickly grasping the situation, weds them in a 15 second service.

Juana is rapturously happy with her big stud of a husband. She delivers an heir -- the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who came closer to uniting all of Europe than anybody between Charlemagne and Napoleon -- and five spares.

But the archduke starts to find his wife's infatuation cloying and unseemly. Royal marriages are not supposed to be love matches. Plus, satisfying his wife's bawdy demands is taking time away from his dallying with her ladies in waiting, who, after all, can't be expected to wait forever.

Increasingly wracked with jealousy, on the day she learns of her mother's death, Juana discovers her husband in bed with a vixen with waist length red hair. The princess demands sharp scissors, and leaves her rival looking like Cyndi Lauper on a bad hair day. Juana then swears to hire only ugly ladies-in-waiting.

Juana and Philip return to Spain to assume the throne of Castile in the heart of Spain. But Philandering Phil falls hard for a Muslim belly dancer and gets her a lady-in-waiting job. In my favorite scene, an eight-months-pregnant Juana grabs two swords and challenges the other woman to a duel.

Philip's advisers from Brussels whisper that he should have Juana declared mad, so that he can rule Castile by himself and incorporate it into the Holy Roman Empire. He begins proceedings in the Spanish Cortes, the parliament of nobles, but is opposed by patriots led by "the Admiral." (It's a pleasing conceit that Columbus would have fought loyally for his great patroness' daughter, but the navigator was actually on his deathbed at the time.)

Suddenly, Philip sickens and dies. The movie skips quickly over Juana's thoroughly screwy behavior after her beloved husband's death, such as keeping his embalmed body by her side in the hopes of resurrection and banning all nuns from the many funerals she conducted for Philip to prevent any posthumous hanky-panky. Juana was ultimately committed to a monastery for the rest of her unhappy life.

For three centuries after her death, the queen's confinement was considered a sad necessity. In the nationalistic and romantic 19th Century, however, Juana was reinterpred as a passionate Spanish heroine, a martyr for love unjustly persecuted by the cold-blooded pan-Europeanists of Brussels.

Today, when the successor to the Holy Roman Empire, the Brussels-based European Union, is daily chipping away at the sovereignty of Spain and the other nations of Europe, it's easy to see "Mad Love" as an allegorical nationalist attack on the EU.

Still, writer-director Vincente Aranda's primary concern is to lionize Juana for placing her emotions above her duty. Apparently, even though the Romantic Era began at the end of the 18th Century, we are still in it in at the beginning of the 21st.

Rated R for sexuality/nudity.


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