Beyond Desire (AKA Desire/Deseo) 2002

“Someone who betrays his ideals, particularly in bed, is very dangerous.”

Passion, and adultery flourish on opposing sides of the ideological fence in the Spanish drama Beyond Desire (AKA Deseo). It’s 1945, and Elvira (Leonor Watling) lives with her zombie-like mother (Rosa Maria Sarda) and politically active sister Raquel (Maria Vazquez) in a grotty little set of rooms in Madrid. Elvira’s father–a prominent communist doctor–was shot for his political activities, and Elvira’s husband Julio, a ‘Bolshevik’ (Ernesto Alterio) is rotting away in prison. But things start looking up when Elvira gets a job as a housekeeper for a man named Pablo (Leonardo Sbaraglia). Pablo–with a mixed German-Argentinean background has some vague connection with the German embassy. He has the sort of life that Elvira’s family used to have–a gorgeous apartment with walls of books.

Elvira and Pablo fall into a mad, passionate, sex-drenched affair with remarkable speed, and Alina (Cecilia Roth)–Pablo’s sarcastic and decadent acquaintance–watches Pablo with disturbed amusement. Pablo and Alina are in Spain to act as a liaison with Hitler’s government. Alina sees Elvira as a threat to their mission. Some scenes hint at the idea that Pablo and Alina’s relationship is less-than-platonic, and that perhaps Pablo enjoys baiting Alina with his affair with Elvira, but this idea is never explored. Instead the film focuses on the torrid affair.

This is a well-made, glossy production–lots of passion–and if it falls down on the plot, you may not notice because the affair is rather distracting. The two elements that provide dramatic tension are the true nature of Pablo’s shady activities and the reaction of Elvira’s soon-to-be-released husband. It’s a little difficult to swallow the notion that Elvira has no idea that Pablo, a privileged fascist–is involved in nefarious affairs of the state. After all, she’s not a politically naive person. But the film chooses to project Elvira as a woman who doesn’t realize Pablo’s German connections until it’s too late. Similarly, Elvira’s cuckolded husband serves as just a device to fluff out the rather average plot. The film is still good entertainment, but Cecilia Roth steals the film as the nasty Alina. Directed by Gerardo Vera, Beyond Desire is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Cecilia Roth, Spain

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