Kiss of the Spider Woman starts out simply enough, hemmed in by the narrow walls of a Latin American prison cell. Molina (William Hurt) is telling his new cellmate, Valentin (Raul Julia), his favorite story. Molina is a delicate homosexual imprisoned for seducing a minor; Valentin is a bearded revolutionary still bleeding from his interrogation. If their film unfolded into the typical prison buddy plot, it'd still be a good movie. But this is a great movie. There are stories twisting within stories, each drawing a new, surprising level of difference between the two heroes: escapism versus realism, romance versus politics, gay versus straight, hero versus coward. As their unstable friendship grows more real, their stories become more vivid--whether Molina's fondly remembered Nazi propaganda noir, Valentin's tortured romantic history, or a tropical island fable told merely to pass the time. (Each substory stars Sonia Braga, a neat bit of casting that further blurs the line between fantasy and reality.) By the end, each man has changed just enough to taste the other's tragedy--a transformation that gives each the strength to define freedom on his own terms, despite the brutality of the prison and the bleak world beyond its walls. --Grant Balfour
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