sex_lucia

Sex And Lucía (Lucía y el sexo)

Spain (2001) Dir. Julio Medem

As the title blatantly informs us, much activity in this international breakthrough film for Spanish arthouse director Julio Medem takes place in the bedroom – or the lounge room, or the beach, or in the sea or wherever the mood dictates. However it would probably be more accurate to have Lorenzo in the title instead of Lucía, since he is the one who gets the most action with the three leading ladies. Lucia really earns the eponymous credit for being more of a catalyst or inbetweener than anything but lets not get too concerned with semantics.

The story is told in a non-linear, elliptical fashion which allows Medem to add a touch of fantasy to the story of three lives that become unexpectedly intertwined because of the horizontal mambo. It begins at a fairly current point in time where waitress Lucía (Paz Vega) returns home after a phone call from her depressed writer boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa) to find the apartment empty and something which reads like a suicide note. Fearing the worst after a phone call from the police, Lucía flees to a remote Balearic Island which she recalled Loranzo talking about.

Six years earlier Lorenzo was having a fling with a married woman Elena (Najwa Nimri) who ends up pregnant later giving birth to a daughter. As they didn’t exchange names Elena has trouble tracking Lorenzo down, only knowing he was in Madrid. By this time Lorenzo is with Lucía but is hit by writer’s block. Six years later Lorenzo learns of his daughter’s existence and that she is in Madrid.

He meets the girl Luna (Silvia Llanos) accompanied by her babysitter Belén (Elena Anaya) who lives with her ex-porn star mother and her lover Antonio (Daniel Freire) on whom she has a crush. Belén shares Lorenzo her sexual fantasies about Antonio which inspires Lorenzo’s new novel. But just as Lorenzo is about to hook up with Belén, tragedy strikes and everyone’s lives are thrown into turmoil as a result.

Don’t be mislead by the conventional sounding plot the way the story plays out is anything but, and not just through the non-linear narrative. Medem weaves a complex web that our protagonists get caught up in that even after we get all the pieces and are able to thread them together it is still quite a remarkable turn of events that unfolds.   While sex is a focal part of the story the centrifugal force is the emotions of the participants which are pushed to the limit by the decision made in the fallout of their sexual desires mainly because the latter was greater than the former.  

This is one of those rare stories that is actually more effective being revealed in piecemeal fashion than in the conventional straight line, sparing us from enduring much of the pain and suffering the characters experience to create a niftier pace. For example had we seen everything that led to Lorenzo’s disappearance in order it would have made for quite a tortuous watch, not to mention limiting the significance and importance of the female roles. Similarly their growths and declines have greater impact with the gaps left temporarily unfilled since we are free from passing judgement on their behaviour which would be too easy to do had we seen the intermediate incidents.

By employing an occasional surreal approach with symbolic and whimsical plot device to illustrate the darker moments when fantasy and reality clash, they will admittedly either distract the audience or be viewed as visual poetry. Depending on how adventurous and experimental you like your cinema a case can be made for both points of view but after a while they don’t seem so out of place, when juxtaposed with the sexual peccadilloes of the main players.

Ah yes – the sex. Well, they is a lot of it here and much like current films where the boundaries of how explicit mainstream cinema has become have been pushed back, this film can be considered a trail blazer! Yet it actually goes beyond being gratuitous as Medem incorporates sex and sexuality as a way to measure the emotional status of the characters. For instance Lucía really comes alive when she and Lorenzo and later when she arrives at the island she embraces the remote location by happily walking around naked. Elena on the other hand becomes reclusive in the years after Lorenzo but Lucía’s arrival awakens something in her that had been long dormant.

For Belén it proves to be a negative and destructive influence in her life. Having a porn star mother is one thing – re-enacting and getting off to her videos is another which suggests that Belén has a distorted view of sex, missing out on the emotional connection. Her life revolves around fantasy so when the horrors of reality invade her delirious world Belén is ill equipped to handle it.  And Lorenzo? Well he is a man and has the pick of three lovely ladies but for him it also becomes both a muse and a prison from which he can’t escape.

Medem asks a lot from his actors, especially the women, and is rewarded by three very different yet equally committed performances both physically and emotionally. They may be naked a lot of the time (Vega in particular) but the characters are deep and real, and the portrayals are honest and raw. While similar roles of frequent nudity have been in the ladies’ canon since this film (Anaya was in Medem’s sensuously Sapphic Room In Rome) they are not beholden to this reputation and have been able to work as credible dramatic actresses.

Ultimately Sex and Lucía is both an apt and deceptive title. It is explicit and raunchy, yet is also a poetic and esoteric exploration of the human emotions, that uses its erotic centrepieces as congruent plot devices and not just to titillate. For all its sexual bravado there is an earnest intelligence present to make this an enriching watch.

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