Juana la Loca  (2001) from ICMS and Tuna

ICMS comments in white: 

A Spanish film from 2001 - translated as Joan the Mad. (Marketed in English-speaking countries as Mad Love)

Director Vicente Aranda (Lumičre and Company, Amantes) presents his view of the history of this unlucky Spanish queen. Joan the Mad (Pilar López de Ayala) did indeed really exist. In 1496, at age 16, princess Joan was sent to Flanders for a arranged wedding with Philip, archduke of Flanders, Burgundy and Austria. Philip and Joan are immediately attracted to one another and instantly consume their marriage. Although Joan is far from prudish and is eager enough to do everything he wants in bed, this is not enough for Philip. One day she finds him in bed with one of her maids of honor (Carolina Bona) and from that moment on Joan seems changed for good. She cries "betrayal" and from that moment on she tries everything to make her husband faithful, having as much luck in doing so as Hillary Clinton had with Bill.

Meanwhile all of Joan's older brothers died, as did her mother, Queen Isabella the Catholic. This made her the heiress of the crown of Castille, so she and her husband moved to Spain, but Joan was still more obsessed with the infidelity of her womanizing husband than to matters of state. Even when the Cortés took her power away, she was still more occupied with finding out who her husband was sleeping with than with preventing her terrible fate. Philip died and was buried in a monastery in Tordesillas, 180 km. northwest of Madrid. Joan herself was locked away at age 28 in a castle in the same town and occasionally got to visit her husband's grave. When her oldest son became King Charles V or Emperor Charles, he did nothing for his mother. She spent the rest of her life, 47 lonely years, in that place.
The film itself could have been better. Certainly, the cinematography and camerawork are good, the locations and costumes are splendid and the actors all deliver solid performances. I liked especially Pilar López de Ayala as Joan the Mad, who puts in a terrific performance, full of passion and eagerness, which was awarded with the Goya prize for best actress and a silver shell at the San Sebastián film festival.


Pilar López de Ayala shows breasts and buns, Carolina Bona unveils her breasts and Italian überbabe Manuela Arcuri reveals all 3 B's.

The story however presents some flaws and is not historically accurate. What exactly was it that the Flemish nobility was taking away from Spain and why did they want her husband Philip on the Spanish throne? Since she was married Joan could not rule Spain by herself and had to appoint a man to do it for her. This process seemed to take years. Who governed Spain in the meantime?

not currently available on Region 1 DVD

It is also unclear why they introduced a character that didn't exist historically: Aixa (Manuela Arcuri), allegedly the daughter of a Moorish king, who becomes Philip's favorite mistress. Beautiful Manuela's part was very small and they filmed her nude scenes in bad lighting. The DP could have done much better here. Furthermore her first nude appearance is shot in a studio in Madrid but apparently the camera was located 240 km. to the north, in Burgos, where the action is supposed to take place. What a shame to muck up this scene, especially since Manuela Arcuri has never been shy in front of the cameras.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Juana la Loca (2001) is a Spanish period piece about Queen Joan the Mad. Pilar López de Ayala plays the title character, who is shipped to Flanders for an arranged marriage to Philip the Handsome. He should have been named Philip the pussyhound. When she catches him in bed with Carolina Bona, she cuts off Bona's hair, and becomes insanely jealous. Philip eventually has her declared mad, and imprisons her for life, usurping the throne. (When her parents died, Joan and Philip became queen and king of Spain). There is also a sub-plot about Spanish racism against the Moors, when Philip has a lengthy affair with a Moorish dancer, played by Italian Manuela Arcuri.

The film looks very good, but after a fairly hot and somewhat humorous start, it slowed down to sheer tedium for me. Rod Armstrong at reel.com put it very well, "Shame on writer/director Vicente Aranda for making a florid biopic about mad queens, obsessive relationships, and rampant adultery so dull."

The Critics Vote

  • Consensus: a bit less than two stars. filmcritic.com 2/5, reel.com 2/4, NY Post 2/4

  • It was nominated for 12 Goyas, but only won three (Costume, Actress, and Makeup).

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: arthouse in the USA (17 screens -250k), but it was a solid mainstream success in Spain with two million paid admissions (6% of the population - about equivalent to 16 million in the USA - which would be a $120 million blockbuster)


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+ from ICMS. Tuna says, "Dull. Granted, costumers are not usually my sort of film. It could have been much more, but it is a good genre effort. C."

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