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When Castilian princess Joan prepares to sail for Flanders to wed Prince Philip the Handsome at the beginning of Mad Love, at least three sailors can be seen in the background scaling the ship’s riggings. They stand out without meaning to, an example of the type of detail—sliced meat, period dances, the heroine deftly snipping an umbilical cord after giving birth on the fly—that veteran writer-director Vicente Aranda carries off well in this 16th-century costume drama. He largely forsakes grand vistas in favor of intimate, crisply executed panning shots that, say, contrast tense conversation among royals with their servants’ discreet, hurried efforts to leave the room. And he’s able to maintain a somber mood with minimal use of Jose Nieto’s subtle score, which goes on vacation for long stretches of the film. But Aranda’s screenplay is another matter. Despite some effective scenes of a parliamentary plot to have Joan (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) declared insane—a conspiracy backed by her husband (Daniele Liotti) and encouraged by her father, Ferdinand (Hector Colome)—the film’s romantic threads fray quickly. Mad Love’s narrator insists that Joan and Philip’s early years—before the death of Queen Isabella compels them to return to Castile as its rulers—are happy. But time speeds by so quickly (It’s 1497! Now it’s 1500! Now 1504!) that we don’t see any meaningful attachment take root—and before long, Philip has a mistress in his hunting lodge. Though it’s clear that Philip’s infidelity at least partly motivates the behavior that earned Joan the epithet “the Mad,” it’s not clear that there was ever any real affection between the two. Aranda has declared that Joan was “driven to madness by love”—not, as her contemporaries claimed, by insanity. He more or less succeeds in proving that Joan probably wasn’t really mad, but, as he tells it, she probably wasn’t really in love, either. —Joe Dempsey