Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Films I Love #38: Sex and Lucia (Julio Medem, 2001)


Sex and Lucia is Julio Medem's moving, sensually rich film about the titular Lucia (Paz Vega) and her attempts to understand, in retrospect, her troubled relationship with her writer boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa) after his disappearance and apparent suicide. The film shifts easily between scenes on a quiet island where Lucia goes to recover, and scenes from the past that blend Lucia and Lorenzo's real relationship with sequences that may be real or may be merely imaginative fantasies from the pages of Lorenzo's latest novel. The present-tense sequences on the island are shot in a high-contrast style where the sun seems to be blurring everything towards a pure white nothingness, giving these scenes an austere, drained visual aesthetic that's the opposite of the sensuality on display throughout the rest of the film.

Medem plays so cleverly with the line between fiction and reality that it's never quite clear what's real and what's not, and it hardly matters. What the film is really about is the power of desire and sexuality, the temptations of fantasy, and the comforts of a sustained relationship as opposed to the transitory but passionate release of a brief dalliance. There's a real darkness and emotional nakedness at the film's core, a sense of sexuality spiraling into death and confusion, but Medem is equally concerned with the joy and pleasure of sex. There are few films that represent sex on screen with greater beauty or sensitivity, capturing above all the fun of great sex. Most movie sex scenes are either sappy and shot with soft-porn stylization, or else gritty and unpleasant and degrading. Sex as visualized by Medem is profoundly happy and pure, with an intimacy and playfulness that establishes the real affection and connection between these characters. At the same time, Medem deals honestly and openly with sex, both its pleasures and its repercussions, and he doesn't flinch away from the uglier moments. He has made a film in which sex is no longer a dirty word but simply an essential part of life and love, a beautiful act that reveals certain truths about these people that can be seen no other way.

9 comments:

Ceasetodream said...

Absolutely one of my favorites! The beautiful Najwa Nimri has a great role in this film as well, just an intoxicating film.

Krauthammer said...

It's nice to know that someone else likes this film as muc as I do. I saw it last year in a course on hispanic cinema and I was the only one who had that reaction.

Have you seen any of Medem's other films? Are they anywhere near as good as Sex and Lucia?

Shubhajit said...

I liked the movie, but the exceedingly convoluted plot left me at a distance where involvement with the movie and its characters were concerned. And with quite a few days having passed since I watched it, I seem to remember not much about it where its plot goes. However, I do remember well its sensuality (that's an understatement), Paz Vega's stunning performance, and the distinctly European arthouse feel to it.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the comments, all. Ceasetodream, the whole cast is great, including Nimri.

Krauthammer, the only other Medem film I've seen is Lovers of the Arctic Circle, which is quite similar to Sex & Lucia (high praise already). I'd rank it just slightly below this one, though I know there are others who like it even better. Either way, it's definitely worth seeing.

Shubhajit, I can understand being turned off by the plot. I think it's intentionally ambiguous what's going on -- I've seen the film a few times now and each time I find myself leaning towards a different interpretation of the film's labyrinthine structure. For me, the confused narrative allows the emphasis to remain on the film's powerful sensuality and emotional content.

Flickhead said...

We're certainly on the same page with this one.

Elena Anaya and her mom? Yowza!

I may have been hallucinating, but I believe they performed a bris on the penis scenes for cable. Comcast was (is?) showing it for free on demand in HD, and I felt sure the two major scenes were "cleaner" than when I first saw it years ago.

Ed Howard said...

Elena Anaya is awesome.

I wouldn't be surprised if the film was cleaned up for cable. It'd be pretty easy, too; if I remember correctly, the penis is just an insert shot. I don't get what's with America's penis obsession. What's the big deal?

Juliette. said...

Agreed with Shubhajit concerning the plot-- but Paz Vega's performance more than made up for it. :)

Flickhead said...

What's the big deal?

Well, actually, that guy in the mud was, well, huge...

Jeremy Richey said...

Wonderful post Ed on what has become one of my favorite films. It's haunted me greatly since the first time I saw it shortly after its release, and it is near the top of my list of the decade's greatest films.