Sex and Lucia

(Sexo y Lucia, Julio Medem, Spain, 2001)


A film by Spanish director Julio Medem is easy to spot. Accompanying the great, universal emotions of life – love, sex, betrayal, revenge – is a heightened poetry of the elements, even the planets: the moon glows, rivers roar, animals lurk, clouds darken. In the underrated Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998), Medem found a wonderfully off-the-ground story in which to channel this wildly expressionist creativity.

Sex and Lucia is rather more earthbound, never really launching itself into the surreal heavens where Medem does his best work. Lucia (Paz Vega) travels to a sultry island to recover from the grief of losing her writer boyfriend, Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa). Steamy flashbacks show us the intense course of their affair.

There is more than a touch of Almodóvar in the tangled melodrama which Medem draws around Lucia. We follow Lorenzo's strange flirtation with Belen (Elena Anaya), the minder of a girl who Lorenzo suspects is his daughter – the result of one-off sex with a stranger long ago. We see Lucia's renewed desires in a Mediterranean boarding-house paradise. Intimations of death, and also resurrection, come to occupy a prominent place in proceedings.

The film has a strange tone, and lacks a true centre. Medem vacillates between whimsical, comic scenes that are often unconvincing, and erotic spectacles that try to ride the colourfully named New Pornographic Wave of international cinema. But, a few suitably hot moments aside, there is nothing especially transgressive or confronting in what Medem shows here.

The title is not as straightforward as it appears. It doesn't mean "Lucia's Sex Life", but instead signifies the arty meeting of two different narratives – one called "Sex" and the other called "Lucia". Since one of these stories involves a version of events as imagined within the novel being written by Lorenzo, the film has a strong affinity – probably unknown to Medem – with John A. Scott's local novel What I Have Written as filmed by John Hughes in 1996.

As in that movie, Medem's double, alternating narrative is full of deliberate mysteries and discrepancies. Yet the film never really takes hold as a modernist game of mirrors or an exploration of baroque paradoxes. Unfortunately, it is closer to the fluff of Amélie (2001) than the wonder of Lovers of the Arctic Circle.

© Adrian Martin July 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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