Juana, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic monarchs of Castile and Aragon, travels to Flanders in 1496 to wed Philip (Daniele Liotti, straight off the cover of a romance novel), who whisks her to the marriage bed before the luxury of an official ceremony. Though her love for Philip awakens a profound passion in Juana, soon enough she is perpetually pregnant and he is perpetually sharing the royal love with ladies-in-waiting and Moorish princesses. Juana's senses and instinct drive her--against convention, she insists on breast-feeding her firstborn, and delivers the second, alone, in a toilet stall, cutting the bloody cord with her teeth. Philip considers her sexual advances (often spurned) and her agonies and rages over his chronic infidelity signs of insanity, but Aranda makes clear that Juana's "madness" is a matter of convenience for her husband and her father as they devise their power plays.
"It must be madness to love someone as despicable as you," Juana tells Philip upon discovering the first of many betrayals. But love him she does, with an obsessiveness that both destroys and sustains her, poignantly depicted in the glimpses of her as an old woman that bookend the story: Half a century after Philip's death, Juana still longs for him. As the object of that lifelong passion, Liotti's Philip, with his long tresses and alternating bare chest and puffy shirts, looks like a cross between Howard Stern and Fabio, and serviceably smolders. The cast as a whole is fine, but it's Lopez de Ayala who lends the film depth with her ferocious, feverish Juana. Starring Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Daniele Liotti, Manuela Arcuri, Eloy Azorin, Rosana Pastor, Giuliano Gemma, Roberto Alvarez, Carolina Bona, Guillermo Toledo, Susy Sanchez and Hector Colome. Directed and written by Vicente Aranda. Produced by Enrique Cerezo. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Historical drama. Spanish-language; subtitled. Rated R for sexuality/nudity. Running time: 118 min