With LOVERS, veteran Spanish director Vicente Aranda finally achieved wide international exposure and critical acclaim. Made in 1991, this tragic story of forbidden passions and betrayed innocence was one of the outstanding foreign films to reach US screens.
Madrid, 1955. Paco (Jorge Sanz), having completed his required military service, hopes to find work and marry his fiancee, Trini (Maribel Verdu), the housemaid to Paco's former commander. Paco lodges in a room rented by Luisa (Victoria Abril), a young widow and part-time grifter. Frustrated by his
unfruitful job hunt and by Trini's refusal to sleep with him until they're married, Paco offers little resistance when Luisa seduces him, initiating an affair. Upon learning of his infidelity, Trini reluctantly gives herself to Paco, hoping to keep him away from Luisa. Though Paco promises to
break up the affair, he succumbs to Luisa's sexual allures. Luisa declares her love for Paco, urging him to kill Trini and start a new life with her. Paco takes Trini to a town outside Madrid, under the pretense of marriage but with murder in his mind. Luisa follows them, unsure of Paco's resolve.
Disarmed by Trini's trusting self, Paco confesses his true intentions. Unable to bear living without his love, Trini allows Paco to kill her. Luisa is about to leave town when Paco catches up with her on the railroad station. As they embrace, a title informs us that the police captured the pair
three days after Trini's murder.
One of the founders of the "Barcelona School" during the 1960s, Aranda is fairly unknown outside Spain, in spite of a distinguished career. Unlike Carlos Saura, who often favors dense allegories, Aranda works with straightforward plots, often adapted from literary sources. In films like CAMBIO DE
SEXO, LA MUCHACHA DE LAS BRAGAS DE ORO and AVENTIS/SI TE DICEN QUE CAI, the frailties of Spanish society are mirrored in stories of troubled man-woman relations, in which sex plays a key role.
Based on a real-life murder case, LOVERS follows Aranda's strategy of exposing the moral corruption of Franco's Spain through one specific incident. While not a strident political tract, the film subtly stresses the tragic effects of oppressive moral codes on its three characters. Trini firmly
rejects Paco's sexual advances; she has been taught the ideal of the virginal bride, saving herself for her lawfully wedded husband. Crushed by Paco's infidelity, Trini seeks solace from her employer's wife, who teaches her the facts of life: men are promiscuous by nature, unable to control their
sexual appetites. The only way to keep a man away from other women is through sex; what he can get at home, he won't seek elsewhere.
Society's moral double standard--condoning male promiscuity while enforcing female subservience--extends beyond the bedroom, oppressing women who seek fulfillment outside the home. Victim of this situation is Luisa, brutalized by her late husband and by the petty thieves with whom she collaborates
in order to supplement her income from rent and from her clerical job in a pharmacy. Luisa sees in Paco's youth a glimmer of hope, a second chance at happiness, which is why she holds on to him so tightly. Paco is portrayed as a determined and well-intentioned, but ultimately weak man; powerless
against his unemployment rut and Trini's moral conduct, he willingly gets involved in Luisa's sexual and criminal games.
Aranda presents this potentially salacious story with taste and intelligence. His characters are not cardboard villains/heroes but human beings caught in a no-win situation. The highly charged sex scenes are provocative without being vulgar. This sexual intensity helps audiences understand Paco's
attraction to Luisa, who gives him the forbidden pleasures of the flesh in more ways than one. Aranda's handling of Trini's murder is understated, relying on the power of suggestion to create a stronger impact.
LOVERS benefits from a first-rate cast headed by Victoria Abril. A frequent collaborator of Aranda's (having worked in CAMBIO DE SEXO, LA MUCHACHA DE LAS BRAGAS DE ORO, TIEMPO DE SILENCIO and AVENTIS, among others), Abril reveals the humanity and sadness behind Luisa's calculating actions. Jorge
Sanz and Maribel Verdu are equally outstanding as the weak-willed Paco and the innocent Trini.
LOVERS is a refreshing rarity in our quality-starved cinematic age: an intense, well-crafted drama for mature audiences. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: With LOVERS, veteran Spanish director Vicente Aranda finally achieved wide international exposure and critical acclaim. Made in 1991, this tragic story of forbidden passions and betrayed innocence was one of the outstanding foreign films to reach US screen… (more)