Sex and Lucia: Unrated Review
Warning: This review contains massive spoilers that will probably completely ruin the film for those who have not yet seen it.
It's a shame that Sex and Lucía (Lucía y el Sexo) has been sold in the English-speaking world as little more than soft-core pornography. The quotes by critics on the DVD case say it all: "One of the sexiest movies of the year!" proclaims the Chicago Tribune. "One of the most erotic movies ever made!" exalts CBS Radio. So many reviewers and filmgoers alike have focused on the sex and nothing else, but despite the fact that it is hard to deny that it is an integral part of the film (the title is Sex and Lucía, after all*), much more is going on than just intercourse. Any review of this film is going to spoil the experience of watching it to some extent, and as such, I strongly advise not to read any more if you haven't seen it yet. It works best in the way in which I experienced it: with virtually no prior knowledge of the plot or its inner workings. For those who have already seen the film and want to read more about it, however, this review will hopefully be reasonably interesting.
The film is essentially about a series of different women who all become linked due to their connections to a man named Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa). A writer by trade, his only friend seems to be his editor, Pepe (Javier Cámara). While working on his second novel, he comes into contact with Lucía (Paz Vega), an adoring fan who has fallen in love with him on the basis of reading his first novel. The two strike up a wild and passionate relationship, and over the course of six years Lorenzo's life spirals out of control as he finds himself increasingly becoming lost in the world of his novel, much to Lucía's chagrin.
Sex and Lucía is not really primarily about sex or Lucía, in fact - something that becomes clear fairly quickly. The main focus is on Lorenzo, and the effect that a past sexual encounter has on his and others' lives. Encroaching on both Lorenzo's real life and the worlds that exist within his novel are two other women - Elena (Najwa Nimri), a free spirit with whom he enjoyed a night of wild, anonymous sex resulting in a child, Luna (Silvia Llanos), and Belén (Elena Anaya), the child's carer. The culmination of these events leads to Lorenzo seemingly committing suicide, at which point the film itself begins and we see Lucía overcome by grief. Dropping everything, she makes a getaway to an isolated island that Lorenzo used to talk about, in an attempt to escape from her grief. From this point on, the story is told in flashback form, with a disparate network of plot strands coming together to tell a complete story.
The degree to which the film is interpreted as literal or fantastical depends greatly on what the viewer wants from it. It differs somewhat from, for example, Mulholland Dr. and Swimming Pool, both of which bear very strong similarities in their narrative approach, in that it does, for the most part, attempt to provide a logical explanation for the events witnessed. While the non-linear form of the narrative, and a number of clues that I will outline below, do suggest that what we are seeing is at least partially fabricated by one of the characters, most of the loose ends are tied up by the film's conclusion, and a rational solution is there for those who want one. Certainly there is nothing wrong with attempting to rationalise the events that have been depicted, but I suspect that this does a disservice to the intricate web of characters woven by writer/director Julio Medem. Deciding what it real and what is not is the biggest problem, but the most obvious explanation, and in my opinion the most likely, is that Lorenzo is real and that at least some of the women he encounters are a product of his imagination. Lucía, Elena and Belén all have similar traits: they are all described as excellent cooks, have voracious appetites for sex, and are totally besotted by Lorenzo, to the extent that Lucía has fallen in love with him and stalked him based purely on reading his novel, while Elena, after a single sexual encounter with him, describes it as "the best fuck of [her] life", and proceeds to shape her entire existence around this event. It is fairly easy to see these women as traditional male fantasy figures created by Lorenzo, and the fact that he seems to be some sort of sex god further implies that at least some of the events are gratuitous self-wankery on his part.
Medem is clearly fascinated with the writing process itself, spending a significant amount of time on Lorenzo's profession and the way it affects him personally. Writing and childbirth are given a strong connection (yet another way in which sex is tied to the writing process), with Lucía describing Lorenzo, as he waits for her to finish reading his latest effort, as an expectant father. To this he responds that she is the mother - implying that it is through her that his writings are given life. The effect that one's personal circumstances have on what one is driven to write is also examined, in that Lorenzo's first novel is described as having a very sad ending, whereas what he initially writes after getting together with Lucía is much more upbeat. One can of course, make the assumption that Lorenzo's relationship with Lucía is real while the other women are fantasy figures, in which case the film becomes a very interesting study of the destruction of a relationship as a result of one of the participants becoming more attached to the imaginary world that he has created in his novel than real life. Even so, however, I am still not completely convinced that Lucía is real, especially when you consider one particular shot in the film, in which her reflection in Lorenzo's computer monitor makes it look very much as if she is in fact inside the computer, looking out. The shot in question is very deliberately framed and is a wonderfully evocative piece of imagery, which makes me reticent to believe that there is no deeper meaning behind it.
Of crucial importance is the island Lucía goes to after losing Lorenzo. It is an extremely iconic location and possibly the most important in the entire movie. Like just about every aspect of the film, whether or not it actually exists in reality can be debated. It seems like an idealised haven from which to escape from reality - Lucía goes there to overcome the grief of losing Lorenzo, Elena as a result of her night of passion with Lorenzo, and Antonio (Daniel Freire) to assume a life of anonymity. Virtually every character is drawn to it, and if we work from the assumption that much of the film is the result of Lorenzo's imagination, it is not hard to view the island as being representative of his mind. I may be being a little hackneyed here, but there is a fairly obvious parallel between Lorenzo's convoluted sex life with multiple women and the island with its multiple holes and solitary lighthouse (at one point used by Lorenzo as a symbol to represent himself on the internet).
Having spent so long discussing different theories regarding the on-screen events, I should probably mention what really holds it all together, which is of course the acting. I can honestly say that there is not a single bad performance in the film, with even the bit players performing impeccably. Paz Vega has been the recipient of a great deal of attention for her role as Lucía, and rightly so. Lucía is sweet, simpering, sexy and psychotic all at once, and she is always a believable character. The real praise should, however, go to Tristán Ulloa, who gives Lorenzo a remarkably grounded quality and beautifully portrays his descent into madness. Najwa Nimri and Elena Anaya are also excellent as the two other female figures in Lorenzo's life, with Nimri's Elena and Anaya's Belén portraying earthy sensuality and youthful lust respectively. Even Silvia Llanos, who plays six-year-old Luna, is very good, demonstrating a lack of precociousness that is admirable for a child actor. Backing up the performances is Kiko de la Rica's evocative photography. Shot entirely on 24p digital video, the shots are intricately composed and the colour styling is quite striking. Some people have criticized the overly-exposed look of many scenes, in which the brighter hues are so bleached out that entire areas of the screen become glaringly white, but this in fact works extremely well for this film, one of the main themes of which is overexposure. The scenes which take place on the island are the most bleached, which is entirely appropriate and gives them a dreamlike sensation. Capping it all is Alberto Iglesias' brilliant score.
Sex and Lucía is a truly remarkable film: a masterpiece of narrative storytelling in which reality and fiction intersect, and fiction has a chance of positively affecting reality. This is a film in which there is significance in every single shot and event, and at the end of the day it's up to the viewer what to make of it all.
Sex and Lucía is presented anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and for the most part looks excellent. The image is remarkably clear at all times, with relatively little edge enhancement or filtering, and the close-ups demonstrate an exceptional level of detail. Where the transfer falls short is in its encoding: some artificial grain has been added to prevent it from taking on the unnaturally static look that so often plagues digital presentations, but unfortunately the bit rate is at times insufficient, leading to some artefacting. It's not terrible, but it does become noticeable on larger displays and as a result prevents the transfer from receiving full marks.
Two audio mixes are included, one in stereo and the other in 5.1 surround, although for all intents and purposes there is little difference between them. Medem rarely makes any use at all of the rear speakers, and while multi-channel effects are not really necessary for the film's enjoyment, I can't help thinking that he missed an excellent opportunity to make use of the depth afforded by 5.1 audio. Optional English and French subtitles are provided, and they prove to be of a high standard - which is just as well, since many of the actors mumble their lines so much that I could imagine even native Spanish speakers having trouble making out some of the dialogue.
The bonus features begin with The Making of Sex and Lucía, a 25-minute look behind the scenes that goes into quite a lot of detail about Medem's intentions and the approach he took towards shooting the film. It is revealed, for instance, that he worked with the actors for five months, establishing a rapport with them, to help them become familiar with their characters: not a luxury you find on most film productions.
Brief Cast and crew interviews with actors Paz Vega, Tristán Ulloa, Elena Anaya, Najwa Nimri, Javier Cámara and Daniel Freire, art director Montse Sanz, cinematographer Kiko de la Rica and writer/director Julio Medem are also included. They don't go into a great amount of detail, and a number of them are mere extensions of interviews from the above behind-the-scenes documentary, but they are for the most part interesting.
A 36-image Photo gallery is also included, featuring various publicity and behind-the-scenes images, as well as three Soundtrack excerpts highlighting Alberto Iglesias' excellent score, Cast and crew biographies, two Spanish Theatrical trailers, trailers for other Palm Pictures releases, and a handful of Web links.
I cannot recommend Sex and Lucía enough, and this DVD is of a very high standard, backing up this remarkable film with an almost-perfect transfer, decent audio and some interesting bonus features.
* It should be pointed out that the difference in naming conventions between the Spanish and the English does affect the perceived focus of the film. One IMDB reviewer notes that by placing the emphasis on sex rather than Lucía in the English title, the film becomes about sex and how Lucía handles it rather than being about Lucía and the meaning of sex in her life. A minor point, perhaps, but one worth bearing in mind.
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Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:41:25