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Kiss of the Spider Woman (Portuguese: O Beijo da Mulher Aranha) is a 1985 Brazilian-American drama film directed by Argentine-born Brazilian director Héctor Babenco,[3] and adapted by Leonard Schrader from the Manuel Puig novel of the same name. William Hurt, Raul Julia, Sônia Braga, José Lewgoy, and Milton Gonçalves star in the leading roles.[4]

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Kiss Of The Spiderwoman.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHéctor Babenco
Produced byFrancisco Ramalho Jr.
David Weisman
Screenplay byLeonard Schrader
Based onKiss of the Spider Woman
by Manuel Puig
Music byNando Carneiro
John Neschling
Wally Badarou
CinematographyRodolfo Sánchez
Edited byMauro Alice
Distributed byEmbrafilme (Brazil)
Island Alive
FilmDallas Pictures (US)
Release date
  • May 13, 1985 (1985-05-13) (Cannes)
  • July 26, 1985 (1985-07-26)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
United States
  • English
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • German
Box office$17,005,229[2]



The film tells of two very different individuals who share a prison cell in Brazil during the Brazilian military government: Valentin Arregui, who is imprisoned (and has been tortured) due to his activities on behalf of a leftist revolutionary group, and Luis Molina, a transgender woman in prison for having sex with an underage boy.

Molina passes the time by recounting memories from one of her favorite films, a wartime romantic thriller that's also a Nazi propaganda film. She weaves the characters into a narrative meant to comfort Valentin and distract him from the harsh realities of political imprisonment and separation from his lover, Marta. Valentin encourages Molina to have self-respect and opens her up to political commitment. Despite Valentin's occasionally snapping at Molina over her shallow views of film watching and unrealistic romance, an unlikely friendship develops between the two.

As the story develops, it becomes clear that Valentin is being poisoned by his jailers to provide Molina with a chance to befriend him, and that Molina is spying on Valentin on behalf of the secret police. Molina has apparently been promised parole if she succeeds in obtaining information that will allow the secret police to break up the revolutionary group.

When Molina declares herself in love with Valentin, a physical consummation of that love occurs on Molina's last night in prison. Molina is granted parole in a surprise move by the secret police. Valentin provides Molina with a telephone number and a message for his comrades. Molina at first refuses to take the number, fearing the consequences of treason, but she relents, bidding Valentin farewell with a kiss.

Now out of prison, Molina calls the telephone number, and a meeting is arranged with the revolutionary group. But the secret police have had Molina under surveillance, and at the rendezvous, a gun battle occurs, with the revolutionaries shooting Molina. As she wanders the streets wounded, the secret police catch her and demand the telephone number, but Molina refuses and dies. On the orders of the police chief, the policemen dump Molina's body in a rubbish pit and fabricate a story about her death and her presumed collaboration with the revolutionary group.

In the prison, Valentin is being treated after being tortured. After a sympathetic doctor risks his job by administering morphine to help him sleep, Valentin finds himself on an idyllic tropical island with Marta.



The story features a "film within a film", featuring Luis Molina episodically telling Valentin Arregui the plot of a fictional film called Her Real Glory ostensibly produced in Germany during Second World War by the Nazis.

The film is based on the 1976 novel El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman) by Manuel Puig. The Argentinian author was the first to adapt his own novel as a stage play. A Broadway musical of the same name, also based on the novel, was produced in 1993.


Early in development, Burt Lancaster was initially going to portray Luis Molina.[6][7]

During filming in Brazil, Hurt and a friend were threatened at gunpoint but were let go several hours later.[8]

Since Babenco "rarely" spoke English, Hurt took direction from him via an assistant director.[7]


Critical responseEdit

The film received positive reviews. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 85% based on reviews from 26 critics.[9]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four, calling it a "film of insights and surprises" and remarking that "the performances are wonderful."[10] James Berardinelli gave Kiss of the Spider Woman three stars out of four, calling it "a fascinating character study." Reviewing the film in 2009, Berardinelli claimed that it "has lost none of its power over the years," and felt that it was more deserving of the Best Picture Academy Award than Out of Africa.[11]

The DVD version contains a bonus disc with voluminous commentary (accessible in English via subtitles) on the making of the film, and on the careers of the writers, actors and producers; as well as the post-production history of the film .


William Hurt won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Picture (the first independently produced film that was), Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Hurt also won Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards, the 1985 Cannes Film Festival[12] and several other festivals. The film was awarded the inaugural Golden Space Needle award from the Seattle International Film Festival.[13]


  1. ^ "KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1985-10-21. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
  2. ^ Kiss of the Spider Woman at Box Office Mojo Retrieved July 16, 2013
  3. ^ Kiss of the Spider Woman on IMDb
  4. ^ New York Times
  6. ^ "William Hurt Looks Back at 'Kiss of the Spider Woman,' the Groundbreaking, Oscar-Winning Drama Turning 30 This Month". Yahoo! Movies. 27 July 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  7. ^ a b Brooks, Brian (13 May 2010). "A Trailblazer, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" Set to Hit Cannes 25 Years Later". IndieWire. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  8. ^ "William Hurt: In Every Role, A New Life To Inhabit". NPR. 25 February 2010. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  9. ^ "Kiss of the Spider Woman". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster.
  10. ^ Roger Ebert. "Kiss of the Spider Woman Movie Review (1985)".
  11. ^ Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) - Reelviews Movie Reviews
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Kiss of the Spider Woman". Retrieved 2009-06-28.
  13. ^ IMDb

External linksEdit