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There is little doubt that the United States has
grown more conservative in recent years. That
has very much been reflected in Hollywood, which has become the land of the prudes.
Outside of mediocre Adrian Lyne films, sex appears in major Hollywood releases only hidden
behind the juvenile antics of gross-out comedies like Something About Mary or Scary Movie. Meanwhile, world cinema becomes ever more audacious
with the likes of Y Tu Mama Tambien
(Mexico), Late Marriage (Israel), Intimacy (Britain), Lies (South Korea), and Romance (France), all of which tackle
sex as a serious subject. Now add
Spains powerful, lyrical melodrama, Sex and Lucia, to the list.
Sex and Lucia fulfills the promise of the title as it is littered with intercourse, masturbation, nudity, and erect penises. Although the actors are world-class chocolates as eye candy, the sex rarely feels gratuitous. It is used for characterization to display joy, playfulness, embarrassment, insecurity, or inhibition all of which reflect on the state of character relationships.
In the story, impetuous waitress Lucia (Paz Vega) believes her lover, novelist Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa), has died in a car accident. Fatigued by their long unraveling relationship and its end, Lucia travels to an island Lorenzo always talked about but refused to visit. As she slowly uncovers secrets on the island that he had long hidden from her, flashbacks reveal the course of their five-year relationship. Before Lorenzo met Lucia, a one-night bout of anonymous sex with a woman named Elena (Najwa Nimri) produced a daughter, Luna (Silvia Llanos). Knowing little other than where Lorenzo was from, Elena arrived with Luna in Madrid to seek him out. By pure chance, Lorenzos publisher, Pepe (Javier Camara), discovered Lunas existence, and Lorenzo, now passionately in love with Lucia, discreetly tracked down his daughter. What followed, involving Luna, her sitter Belen (Elena Anaya), and Antonio (Daniel Freire), the boyfriend of Belens mother, would forever change Lorenzo and his relationship with Lucia. Or did it? Writer-director Julio Medem freely mixes Lorenzos pseudo-autobiographical fiction with real story events, casting just enough suspicion to make one doubt which is which. The result is to make one aware of the creative process in both the story one is watching and the fiction within the fiction.
Julio Medems previous film, the distant, symbol-laden Lovers of the Arctic Circle would ill-prepare one for the voluptuous feast that is Sex and Lucia. One wont find a more sensuous movie this year. The entire cast is terrific with the added bonus of physically just smoldering on screen. Special mention goes to Javier Camara (remaining clothed in a bit part), who brings humor to the screen just by his very presence.
Some critics have complained about the vast array of implausible coincidences in the movies plot, but those are beside the point. Sex and Lucia is clearly modeled on Greek tragedies of the Oedipus variety with the caveat that a good deal of it may or may not be a fiction within the film. The movie is an enormous series of contrivances relying on fate and destiny, but it never pretends to be otherwise. Sex and Lucia works like a fairy tale, transporting the viewer to sumptuous Spanish landscapes populated with vividly realized characters hurled into circumstances beyond their realization or control. But just as fate can take friends and lovers away, it can also bring them together. The movie has a company of characters and a trove of opulent experiences to revisit many times.
- George Wu