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‘Labyrinth of Passion’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 20, 1990

"Labyrinth of Passion" is a flaming soaper, a belching, ogling comedy of sexual malfunction set in Madrid in 1982, when the city was still in a post-Franco frenzy. Anything goes, from loose bowels to bondage, in this vulgar satire from Pedro Almodovar, the zany Spaniard who graduated to more mainstream material with last year's frolicsome "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."

Though coarser and cheaper than Almodovar's later efforts, this comic orgy is prototypically Pedrovian, all swinging singles, melodramatic kitsch and bright colors. It marks the beginning of the writer-director's romance with passion as unbridled, gassy fuel for living, his search for meaninglessness.

A provocative twosome -- Cecilia Roth and Imanol Arias -- star as a nymphomaniac and a gay prince whose unlikely destiny is to find one another, overcome their sexual preferences and live happily ever after on a tropical island. Roth, warm as sun on your face, is the promiscuous rock star Sexilia, who picks up men 10 at a time. She strolls through Madrid's busy marketplace eyeballing the hombres, happy as a bee in a bakery.

Arias, Byronically punky, is Riza, a homosexual whose father, a deposed Islamic shah, is dying of cancer. His stepmother, the ex-empress, coincidentally is being treated for infertility by Sexilia's father, a frigid gynecologist. Many orgies hence, the youngsters discover each other during a concert in an underground club full of punk poseurs sniffing nail varnish and gagging up songs.

Almodovar, who tosses a plot together like some kind of meat salad, throws in Marta Fernandez-Muro as Queti, a pleasant young woman regularly abused by her father, who is hooked on an aphrodisiac called Vitapens. A fan of Sexilia's, she eventually meets the singing nympho and becomes her stand-in. Add to this mixture an Islamic terrorist with an acutely developed sense of smell and a porky shrink bent on sleeping with the fertility doctor and you've got something for everybody, including sadists. "Labyrinth of Passion" is a mirror of Madrid's club scene, as tediously dadaistic as the punk genre it so arduously lampoons. Almodovar himself, in a leather mini and industrial-strength makeup, performs such earsplitting punkadilics as "Suck It to Me." "Looking for your warmth," he wails, "I went down to the sewer and the rats gave me their love." But punk spoof is as bad as the real thing, so bad it isn't funny. And sensibilities being what they are these days, when the happy lovers fly off to the future, we're certain their happiness will be short-lived, that they've both got AIDS. Promiscuity, Almodovar's muse, and the drugs he celebrates have proved poison indeed.

"Labyrinth of Passion" is in Spanish with English subtitles. Though not rated, the film contains mature language, nudity and sexual violence.

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