Sex and Lucia

M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   C R I S S A - J E A N    C H A P P E L L

They made love underwater, their legs flashing like knives. Neither knows the other's name, so they share a couple guesses. He learns that she cooks what she catches from the ocean. She learns that he's celebrating his birthday that night, lost in the sound and spray, under a sky crazy with stars. It's the best present he could ever imagine.

Julio Medem, the young, Spanish writer-director who made the lyric, nonlinear film Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998) adores words that are spelled the same, forwards and backwards. His own last name is an example. In Lovers of the Arctic Circle, the elliptical narrative began at both ends and met in the middle. Medem dealt with chance and circumstance, letting his characters roll with cosmic coincidence the way it happens in real life.

Six years after Lorenzo (whose name means "sun," played by Tristan Ulloa) swam with Elena (Najwa Nimri) on an island brilliant with moonlight, he is living with Lucía (rising star Paz Vega, whose performance here earned her the Goya -- the Spanish Oscar -- for Best Actress). Through flashbacks, Sex and Lucía jumps to their first, bizarre meeting, where Lucía, the girl with the question mark smile, flings herself at Lorenzo after declaring that she is a fan of his novel. Everything takes on a heightened sweetness when they move in together, as though we were watching their moist embraces through the rose-colored tint of memory (one that belongs to both characters, not simply the protagonist). Unlike most sensual films, in which the cameras tend to leer at full-frontal femininity, Sex and Lucía exposes both lovers with equal abandon. The intoxicating sequences unfold in a haze of sumptuousness, free of the usual erotic clichés.

As Lorenzo works on his new novel, he finds that his own blissful existence is getting in the way of his writing. Without conflict, there is no story. He thinks back to his meeting with ex-lover, Elena, picturing the little girl they could've conceived from that one brief encounter. The film's plotline, like Lorenzo's fiction, is prone to sudden departures. It's unclear whether he meets his child, Luna, in the park, along with her sexy babysitter, Belen (Elena Anaya), with whom he might've tangoed between the sheets. This amnesiac quality will leave some viewers disgruntled. Others won't mind the film's starts and jumps if they're prepared to approach it like a dream, the kind that has no hidden meanings, except for those we attach ourselves. Does it really matter if Medem's characters turn up in various combinations, a series of scenes that work well in themselves, if not always in their labyrinthine conclusions?

Medem says he wrote the screenplay, then a novel, and then translated the novel back into a screenplay. He warns us that the story, like the island, has a hole in the middle, and starts all over again. The film's ambiguities place the audience as the authority of meaning, inviting repeated viewings and interpretations. It's a world within worlds, a story within stories, in which it becomes increasingly difficult to determine which is "real" and which is "illusion." Sex and Lucía dislocates the viewer and prevents them from holding onto a fixed meaning. Plot lines drift in endless circles. Sequences span and overlap time. Truth is continually ascribed and denied.

If you pay attention, you'll realize that the ending is the only one this film could have given us. In books and movies, the ordinary always seems extraordinary. A traditional film creates an illusion of order which doesn't measure up with the modern experience. Like modern art, Sex and Lucía has severed its connection to the external world for a deeper examination of the unconscious self, the subjective sense of time, and the floating island that we carry within ourselves.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]

Studio Web site: Palm Pictures
Movie Web site: Sex and Lucéa



Photo credits: © 2002 Palm Pictures. All rights reserved.