A woman who works at the Prado Museum in Madrid is obsessed with a centuries-old Flemish painting. The painting depicts a girl playing the piano observed by a man whom the woman imagines is her teacher and lover. She firmly believes that she is the girl in the painting and that a stranger she just met is the man. Written by
This is a marvellous film, intriguing, mysterious, and featuring an intensely interesting female star, Irene Visedo. Visedo is brooding and beautiful, with wildly curling dark hair and eyes which could mean anything. She plays a character who is meant to be inscrutable, and she certainly is. In one sense, the film 'spans the centuries', for at the centre of the story is an anonymous 16th century painting in the Prado Museum in Madrid which resembles a Vermeer and has been painted in Bruges (which the Spaniards call Brujas and the Flemish call Brugge- which means roughly 'bridgey', as one must know) of a young woman playing a virginal and her teacher standing beside her. Visedo spends her days as a guard in the Prado, sitting and staring for hours at the mysterious painting, which appears to show Visedo herself as seen from behind, and the bared shoulder of the girl has the same mole in the same place that she has. So she becomes obsessed with thoughts of reincarnation, and who knows, maybe she is right. Then one day the man enters the Prado who appears to be the man in the painting, whose back in the painting is also turned. As he stands looking at the painting with his back to Visedo, he places his hand behind his back and clasps his fingers in a certain strange way, which just happens to match the way the man in the painting's fingers are clasped. When Visedo sees this, she falls down in a dead faint and the man, who happens to be a doctor (in fact, a psychiatrist), rushes to her aid. Thus they come to know one another, and a long and tangled tale ensues. The psychiatrist is played by Eduard Fernandez, who is far from being an obvious romantic lead, as he is small, bearded and cuddly, rather than tall and thrusting in the conventional mode. But in a way, this makes the story far more convincing, for the amorous and romantic undertones are thus kept more subdued, and hence last for longer and are more effective as a question: will they or won't they, or should I say, did they or didn't they (in the 16th century I mean)? Fernandez is convinced that Visedo is suffering from a psychiatric condition, and he attempts to treat her with hypnosis. But this merely makes the 'memory' (if it is a memory) of their having known each other in the 16th century more vivid and disturbing. Arias and a keyboard piece by Mozart suffuse this film. Visedo's father was always singing a particular aria, and Visedo's grandmother won't stop playing it over and over again every day, irritating Visedo who cannot get her to stop. Visedo's parents died when she was young in a mysterious car crash. Driving conditions were perfect, there was nothing wrong with the car, so why did it veer off the road and crash? They had moved to Belgium leaving her behind with her eccentric grandmother, who is addicted to internet gambling and never goes out. Another creature who never goes out, indeed never leaves Visedo's room (as Visedo still lives with her grandmother, a nun-like existence), is Visedo's cat, who is the exact replica of the cat in the painting. The DVD box says in Spanish: 'Can a love endure for 400 years?' We are certainly beginning to wonder, as this film becomes more and more like Hitchcock's VERTIGO. Do the two just look like the people in the painting, or are they really reincarnations? Why is Fernandez so determined not to succumb to Visedo's charms? Is he afraid of being drawn into the whirlpool of her desires, and perhaps of his own? The title of the film means in English 'Mad Loves'. (In order to avoid misunderstandings, I should say that there is no connection with the book by French surrealist writer Andre Breton, MAD LOVE.) As it happens, Fernandez specializes in just these types of psychiatric disturbances. Meanwhile, he is divorcing his wife who has been unfaithful, and his friend, another psychiatrist, is infatuated with a prostitute who claims to be Hungarian, but when he discovers she is Catalan and only pretending to be Hungarian, he loses interest in her. That is the director's little touch of black humour. The fact that the two psychiatrists in the film are both somewhat off the rails is, shall we say, all too true to life. (I have had two psychiatrist friends who were both totally insane individuals. It is a good place for a madman or a mad woman to hide and not be discovered, the next best place to hide being perhaps to become a film or theatre director, but then of course one does become discovered, as all actors know, since they have to work with them all the time.) With the two psychiatrists both being a little crazy, is it any wonder that Visebo, who has not had the benefit of indoctrination in Freudian theory, is as well? She has made a replica in her own room at home of the scene in the painting, complete with a virginal on which she plays a Mozart tune (allegro ma non troppo) very well indeed. The borderline between fantasy and reality really is being worn away steadily, as the film progresses. Fernandez does some detective work and finds a particular house in Bruges. Does it really have some significance for them? If so, in the past, or today? This film is beautifully directed by Beda Docampo Feijoo. There is only one major flaw to this production, and that is that the interior lighting is absolutely brutal, raw, and unsubtle. The cinematography is OK otherwise, but the lighting of many of the most intimate scenes is simply appalling, and this damages the film a great deal by destroying much of the atmosphere, not least under the opening credits. Spanish films could do with a great deal more exploring.
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