William Hurt and the late Raúl Juliá shimmer in Hector Babenco’s moody morality tale about improbable prisoners in cramped quarters. Hurt is Luis Molina, an affected gay man jailed for sexual deviance. Juliá, the magnificent Puerto Rican actor, is Valentin Arregiu, a proud journalist imprisoned for his politics. The men are oil and water. To stay sane, Luis narrates noir romances from Bogart-era films. One includes a femme fatale, the spider woman, played by Sonia Braga.
Argentine-born Brazilian Babenco is sensitive equally to claustrophobia and homophobia. He makes the odd couple’s cell into a stage and Luis’ stories into mesmerizing parables for dictatorship, totalitarianism, and, more simply, intolerance. Though resistant at first, Valentin gradually participates in Luis’ escapism. Hurt is single-mindedly outrageous, pushed to do something he’d never done before nor attempted since. Juliá, who died in 1994 at 54, is ramrod straight.