Sex and Lucia (Julio Medem, 2001)
Spanish Title: Lucía y el sexo
Julio Medem's Sex and Lucia is such a confounding film, quite frustratingly so. Characters appear, disappear and reappear. Settings evoke an air of unearthiness and mysticism. Sex is almost too erotic, just a few steps above being too sinful. It lures, and teases. The moment you get a feeling that you already have a good grasp of its overflowing narrative, it forces you to let go by throwing a few more tricks to your inconvenience. Despite that, it's still a good film --- incredibly sexy, unbearably magnetic, and quite surprisingly, very coherent.
Lucia (Paz Vega) sojourns in a remote Mediterranean island after learning that her long-time boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa) has killed himself. The island is also the setting of Lorenzo's wildest one-night stand with Elena (Najwa Nimri) in the middle of the ocean, underneath a moon-lit sky. During Lucia's stay in the island, she meets several characters from Lorenzo's past, including Elena (who is taking care of the island's hotel) and scuba-diving Carlos (Daniel Freire), and encounters several metaphors from Lorenzo's own novels, including a mysterious hole in the middle of the island, a lighthouse, and other curious phenomenon.
The other half of the film, told through flashbacks that mix what is offered to be real and what is imagined, details Lucia's relationship with Lorenzo --- from the point wherein Lucia proposes her love to him inside a side-street cafe, to the time when their relationship crumbles with Lorenzo's breakdown over personal problems and the accompanying rigors of writing. The reality of Lorenzo's life gets mixed up with his art. Characters from his novel seem to be derived from the eventualities of real life; then these characters start to breathe a life of their own, their personalities and sensibilities intermixing with reality, until you wouldn't be able to discern which is taking over and which is subordinate.
Medem makes you believe that there are two aspects to his films --- of the real world and the world within Lorenzo's novel; of the periods before and after Lorenzo's suicide; of sex and Lucia. However, the entire film actually belongs within Lorenzo's novel-in-the-making. The contrivances, and the unrealistic plot mechanics (the dog accident and the entire scenario that revolved around it is surely something that doesn't belong in our conventional concept of a real world) are all too literary to evolve within the framework of real-life experiences; and I believe Medem is that talented a writer-director to know what fits in a film that details reality.
The entire film is nourished (as much as it also nourished by an abundance of naked flesh and sexy scenarios) by an explicit attraction to the mystical, whether it be during the moments that are implied as within-novel, or real. Medem drapes his day scenes with an abundance of sunlight (Lucia is also heard singing a song about the sun); while the night scenes are made distinct by the appearance of a very attractive moon (its presence lingers because of the name of Lorenzo's daughter, and other devices). The island itself is described as a natural anomaly; a lid in the middle of the sea with labyrinthine underground passages and its tides affecting the human mind. The entire film feels generally like a modern Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, or at least externally reads like one, with its adherence to magic realism. Even the sex scenes have that literary imaginative character.
The biggest mistake in watching Sex and Lucia is to try making something logical about it or to perceive it as a film with a fractured narrative, because it shouldn't be logical nor is it a puzzle to be solved. The film is something to get engaged in (and its sexiness does help a lot in that bit) and to enjoy in all its unabashedly pulpy naked glory.
This post is my contribution to Culture Snob: The Misunderstood Blog-A-Thon.