Bigas Luna Collection: The Ages of Lulú (Les edades de Lulú) Review

Fifteen-year-old Lulú (Francesca Neri) spends the evening with her brother’s friend Pablo (Oscar Ladoire)…and finishes the night by losing her virginity to him in the back seat of his car. Years later, they meet again, become lovers, marry and dedicate themselves to erotic exploration, along with their transvestite friend Ely (María Barranco). But one day Pablo goes too far, sending Lulú onto an increasingly dangerous path to sexual fulfilment.

Although it’s been since overshadowed by the trend of hardcore European arthouse films that began later in the decade, The Ages of Lulú certainly pushed a few boundaries in its time, and its three releases so far are an index of the BBFC’s liberalisation of sexual content for home viewing – a UK cinema release was announced in the wake of the success of Jamón Jamón but didn’t happen - over the last decade. It’s not actually hardcore, but some scenes – Oscar shaving Lulú’s pubic hair so that she can be “perfect”, Lulú using a vibrator – still look pretty real to me.

Luna’s reputation in the UK at the time was as a major of lusty, full-blooded, funny, sexy melodramas, like a heterosexual version of his compatriot Pedro Almódovar – which is a misleading comparison to say the least, and something I’ll discuss further during this series of reviews. The Ages of Lulú is not funny in the slightest, in fact it’s positively disturbing, and that’s before it reaches a finale of a sadomasochistic orgy. Luna’s male leads are often macho to a fault though he’s usually sending them up while maintaining affection for them – but that irony is less clear here. Lulú certainly consents to be sexually “moulded” by Pablo, but to what extent we are meant to approve of this – and the ending implies that we should – and to what extent we are watching the progress of a damaged human being is left for us to decide. There’s no doubting Luna’s filmmaking skill, nor the committed performances of his leads. María Barranco gets the showiest part, arriving a third of the way into the film, playing a male drag queen without overdoing it. But The Ages of Lulú is a problematic film, and not an easy one to like.

The version of The Ages of Lulú included in Tartan’s four-film Bigas Luna Collection is encoded for Region 2 only. Affiliate links to the left refer to the box set, although the film continues to be available separately.

The film made its British premiere on VHS in 1998, and lost 2:55 at the behest of the BBFC. Most of these cuts were to the SM orgy sequence towards the end of the film. These were restored for the 2002 DVD release. However, one edit of 1:15 remained, though with no loss of running time as footage was substituted. This happens during the opening credits, as baby Lulú is baptised. After a fade to black, the credits continue over a shot of the baby girl lying on her back as talcum powder is sprinkled over her. However, the problem with this shot is that her legs are to camera, and parted, and the sight of her vagina made this a potentially illegal image under the terms of the Child Protection Act. The 2002 DVD simply replaced this with a black background for the credits. This new DVD restores the original shot. I haven’t seen any non-UK release of this film so can’t make any comparison, but the shot may well have been optically darkened. (The 2002 DVD, which is still available separately, included a text extra describing the film’s censorship history, but this is missing from the 2007 DVD.)

The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.66:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The film seems quite darkly-lit throughout much of its running time, which may well be a deliberate choice and also to do with a lowish budget. Even in more brightly-lit scenes the colours tend to darker hues, and there’s some noticeable grain. However, there isn’t anything here that seems not to have been in the original.

The Ages of Lulú was recorded in Ultra Stereo, a low-budget alternative to Dolby. What this entails is a track that is essentially monophonic with the surrounds occasionally used for the music score. Subtitles are optional.

The only extra is the original trailer (4:3, running 2:03), which is a series of shots from the film accompanied by the first three verses of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”, which features in the film as well.

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