Believe it or not, the Spanish-language historical drama "Mad Love" has more than a few than a few things in common with the 1995 American drama of the same name. Both films treat a serious subject (mental illness) as a minor sidenote to a more "romantic" story. And the two movies also waste good performances from their respective lead actresses (Pilar Lopez de Ayala; Drew Barrymore).
Truth be told, this new "Mad Love" (a k a "Juana la Loca," or "Joan the Mad," in its home country) may be the bigger disappointment of the two, because it's actually based on the true story of Joan of Castile, the 15th century Spanish princess (and later queen) who spent most of her life in a nunnery.
In writer/director Vicente Aranda's version which is even more heavily fictionalized that a 1949 film by Juan de Orduna, we first see Joan as a lovestruck youth who is obliged to marry Philip of Brussels (Daniele Liotta). She has reservations about the union, which is meant to unite their respective kingdoms in a time of uncertainty. But when she sees the prince known as "Philip the Handsome" to his subjects Joan falls passionately in love with him.
However, their bliss may be short-lived. First, the deaths of her family members make her the heir to her kingdom's crown, as well as considerable responsibilities with regard to her subjects. Then she has to contend with her husband's infidelities, as well as insurrection from within both kingdoms (the Flemish and Castilian nobilities both make power plays).
The film is a very handsome production (kudos to set designer Miguel Chang and costume designer Javier Artinano for capturing the period). And Lopez de Ayala is terrific as the queen driven mad by love.
However, Aranda's screenplay and direction are rather shallow, so that this bodice-ripper feels more like a Lifetime made-for-cable movie than an epic, tragic romance.
"Mad Love (Juana la Loca)" is rated R for scenes of simulated sex, male and female nudity, use of crude sexual slang terms and some frank sexual talk, brief violence (domestic, as well as some sporting violence) and scattered use of strong sex-related profanity. Running time: 117 minutes.