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Sex and Lucia (R)
Palm Pictures
Official Site
Director:Julio Medem
Producers: Fernando Bovaira and Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Written by: Julio Medem
Cast: Paz Vega, Tristan Ulda, Najwa Nimri, Elena Anaya


When Lucia (Vega) loses her boyfriend Lorenzo (Ulda) in an accident, she flees to their favorite island getaway. Sex And Lucia flashes back six years to recall their tumultuous relationship. As the film progresses, however, it becomes increasingly unclear whose story we are watching. When they first meet, Lorenzo is a blocked novelist. Lucia is a reader so impassioned by his earlier work that she has fallen in love with him. At her request, they agree to move in together on the spot. Gradually, she inspires him to write again. Is this every writer’s dream? Or is this every reader’s dream? Or is it someone else’s dream altogether?

As Lorenzo types and Lucia reads the results, the movie illustrates scenes from what appears to be Lorenzo’s developing manuscript, but could just as easily be Lucia’s nightmare, as the story becomes a long, twisted journey into a perilous Oedipal underworld. Its characters include Lorenzo and Lucia themselves, plus Lorenzo’s illegitimate daughter, Luna, her beautiful mother, Luna’s creepy babysitter, with whom Lorenzo starts an affair, the babysitter’s porn-star mother and horny stepfather, any or all of whom may spring from real life or be outright fantasies. How can Lorenzo and Lucia survive the journey and stay together?

Menem (Lovers Of The Arctic Circle) ransacks the whole Spanish toy box of the fantastic and surreal, the way Jean-Pierre Jeunet raided the Gallic bon-bon box to produce the cavity-inducing, super-French Amelie, to very different effect. As in any erotic practice, some toys are more enjoyable than others, depending on your taste. Do you like stories that bend time backward and forward until it’s stretched to the breaking point? Do you prefer films that talk about what they’re doing to you, murmuring philosophical nothings in your ear meant to reveal their hidden themes? Perhaps you enjoy films that mimic a hall of mirrors, endlessly multiplying themselves and their viewers by confusing reality and art? Or do you prefer a chain of happy coincidences that leads to a satisfying end? 

Sex And Lucia tries them all. This is the kind of movie where tragic events are accompanied by huge close-ups of clouds swallowing the moon, characters spontaneously fall through holes in the sand as if they’re in Alice in Wonderland, and stories are packed within other stories like nesting boxes.

While I found the film’s reliance on such coy cinematic tchotchkes exasperating, the powerful emotional relationships between the characters kept me interested. Superb, full-blooded performances by all of the actresses in the film, especially the tough, vulnerable Vega, save the movie from becoming a candied confection.

One of only a handful of films shot using high definition video, Sex And Lucia is drained of color, overexposed, like a book left on the beach, bleached by sun, sand, and salt. This suits the film’s sense of sadness, but also gives it grit and immediacy, so it is never stagnates but exists energetically in the moment.

Sex And Lucia also enthusiastically mixes melodrama, sex farce, satire, and metaphysics. There is a vivacious, lovely looseness about the way it shuffles events and genres back and forth, as if they were pages in Lorenzo’s novel or a magical intermingling of all its characters’ memories and dreams. Watching Sex And Lucia feels like pouring sand back and forth between your hands or watching waves overlap and transform each other.

But what about the sex?

Did censors have to be so hard on a hard on? Sex And Lucia, which features some of the happiest and most purely affectionate sex scenes in recent film, was threatened with an unpleasant snip of the censor’s scissors in the U.S., and has been classified as virtually pornographic in Great Britain. Yes, the problem is not female nudity, but the number of frank, unfettered shots of penises in various states, from swinging to standing to wondering which way to go. One close-up features Lucia’s loving hand ecstatically gripping Lorenzo’s erect, flushed member. Oh dear, look away, look away, innocent viewer, or face certain corruption! Give me a break! God forbid we should get so fucked up at the sight of fucking—we ought to be glad for it and question ourselves, not the film, if we can’t handle it. It says a lot about sex onscreen these days, and our failure to deal with sex convincingly in American films, that watching two happy lovers have playful, but not particularly shocking, sex, is so rare and such a cause for notoriety.

I don’t want to give excited readers the impression that Sex And Lucia is just an excuse for paying to see some hot sex scenes, but that’s not the worst reason to see this film (or any other, for that matter) if that’s what it takes to get you through the door. However, the sex in these scenes, which take up only a fraction of the film, is surprisingly conventional. When Lucia and Lorenzo make love, yes, you get full frontal nudity (male and female), explicit sex acts, etc., but there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what they do. In fact, the scenes are simultaneously relaxed, full of affection and feeling, and often silly or goofy, just like the real deal. When was the last time you saw a heterosexual sex scene that actually happily reminded you of real sex?

Interestingly, the successful realism of these scenes deprives the carefully applied, poetic “magic” of the rest of the film of its seductive power. It’s a case of too much mind and not enough body. The sex scenes are so refreshing and genuine, the rest of the movie, for all its many strengths, is a bit anti-climactic.

What’s really shocking isn’t the nudity or the explicitness in Sex And Lucia, which is being used to market it, you can be sure, but the warmth and delight and fun, its erotic wit—sex as genuine happiness. The only thing overexposed in this picture is the cinematography.

—Ellen Whittier


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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