Set in Chile in l973, Of Love and Shadows, the second screen adaptation of popular Chilean novelist, Isabel Allende, is just as misconceived and curiously uninvolving as the first one (House of Spirit), with one major exception: It has a credible star, Antonio Banderas, in the lead. The Spaniard heartthrob, who soon might suffer from overexposure, plays a dissident doctor who's forced to work as a photographer and in the process falls for an attractive journalist, played by the very American Jennifer Connelly. Miramax's publicity machine needs all the help it can get in broadening the appeal of this long-on-the-shelves meller beyond Banderas' fans and viewers interested in political fare.
The story is told from the point of view of Irene Beltran (Connely), the attractive daughter of a privileged Chilean family, who lives with her mother on the family's estate, the Will of God Manor, which has been converted to senior citizens home. Like many politically silent members of her class, Irene is living a sheltered life. She's engaged to Gustavo (Camilo Gallardo), a handsome captain in the military, who expects to go places under General Pinochet's dictatorial regime.
Focusing on a woman whose life was safe, until, as she says in voice-over narration, “I began to wake up,” tale chronicles the gaining of political awareness of a passive, bourgeois woman–the kind of movie that Jane Fonda made a career of in Coming Home, China Syndrome, and others. Irene holds a glamorous job at a Conde Nast-like fashion magazine, where she meets Francisco Leal (Banderas), a sexy man looking for a job. Trained as a psychologist, Francisco is now working as a photojournalist, though he hopes to land more exciting and meaningful assignments that taking photos of birthdays and weddings.
The two exchange one look, go for lunch, during which they talk about the unbearable fear and censorship in their country–and fall in love. Riding on his motorbike, they go to a countryside top cover the story of a local girl who presumably possesses psychic healing powers. As soon as begins to demonstrate her act, however, some soldiers appear and in quick order not only confiscates Francisco's film but terrorizes the entire town.
A gay sub-plot introduces Mario (Patricio Contreras), Irene's flamboyant colleague, who's humiliated by homophobic Gustavo.