Sex and Lucia



Lucia y el Sexo : Spain 2001 : Julio Medem : 128 mins

ONE-LINE REVIEW: Seductive locations, some striking visuals and a stunningly sensual Paz Vega are embarrassingly wasted by Medem’s insufferably pretentious script and direction.

If the title wasn’t blatant enough, nearly all the posters for Sex and Lucia show drop-dead-gorgeous star Paz Vega astride a scooter in a revealing top, smouldering at the camera while in the distance we see a phallic white lighthouse. And anyone handing over their money expecting steamy raunch certainly won’t be disappointed – the film features several sequences which wouldn’t be out of place in a high-class ‘adult movie,’ and Vega deserves a place alongside the cinema’s all-time sex-sirens.

But the lofty reputation of Basque auteur Medem demands that Lucia be taken seriously – and there’s certainly plenty going on story-wise. Lucia, (Vega) a waitress in a fancy Madrid caf, has just broken up with her overdemanding writer-boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa). Receiving an ambiguous phone call from the police informing her he’s been involved in a road accident, she jumping to the conclusion that Lorenzo is dead. Fleeing to the Mediterranean island of Formentera, she finds the space to recall the relationship’s ups and downs, and meets Elena (Najwa Nimri), a woman with a tragic past, and her own memories of Lorenzo.

Vega’s strong appeal means Sex and Lucia is watchable whenever she’s on screen – and she dominates the early sections, making Lucia’s slightly implausible actions seem entirely believable. But when Medem starts shifting his emphasis to sub-plots that concentrate on Lorenzo, Elena and Elena’s friends Belen (Elena Anaya) and Carlos (Daniel Freire), the movie rapidly falls apart. We bog down into some threadbare ‘explorations’ of the writer’s creative processes, and while Jim Kerr lookalike Ulloa is never the most sympathetic or engaging of protagonists, the real problem lies in Medem’s insufferably pretentious screenplay.

It’s often very difficult to work out what’s going on – the fate of Lorenzo and Elena’s daughter Luna (Silvia Llanos) is especially opaque, a real problem as the whole film ends up pivoting on exactly this plot point. The crucial scene is an ineptly edited, baffling flashback – perhaps the most embarrassing sequence in the film, apart from the unintentionally hilarious mud-bank two-hander between Lucia and a naked, randy Carlos.

Medem seems to think he’s saying something about the power of memory, and about stories – how we try to shape our lives into narratives – and love, and, presumably, much else besides. But he loses his way in his plot’s melodramatic convolutions. The film becomes very hard work with no real rewards at the end – when the end finally comes. The direction isn’t much better, relying on some very ham-fisted, hand-me-down symbolism involving water, the sun and the moon. Kiko de la Rica’s high-definition digital-video camera captures a few striking images (the opening shot is a magnificent and wholly original tracking shot along the seabed), but, considering Medem has the twin wonders of Paz Vega and Formentera to work with, this really is the least we can expect.

Unlike the very mannered, ‘actor-ish’ Nimri (as awkward here as in Stones), Vega is a remarkably natural screen presence, and she has a bedroom-striptease sequence that’s almost worth the price of admission on its own. It’s certainly more than enough to satisfy the thrill-seekers lured in by the film’s shameless, opportunistic (and, in Spain at least, very successful) marketing techniques. But it’s frustrating to see such sensational work wasted at the service of such a shoddy overall conception. The sex in Sex and Lucia, while undeniably entertaining, ultimately sails rather too close to pornography – i.e. gratuitous eroticism – for comfort.

This complaint has nothing to do with ‘proper’ porn films – that industry has a job to do and a service to perform for a certain section of the public, and does so without affectation or condescension. Medem, however, labours under the delusion that he’s creating art. But he has no idea how to assemble a coherent framework for his ‘ideas’, and the results come across as exploitative – not to mention boring. On this evidence, he’s as talentless and self-obsessed as his ‘hero’ Lorenzo, who doesn’t seem any great shakes as a writer at all – it’s very hard to grasp why Lucia would even give him the time of day, let alone the time of his life.

Oddly enough, Sex and Lucia isn’t this year’s only DV-shot film in which a gorgeous young woman explores her memories and her sexuality after escaping to a Mediterranean island, and which features melodramatic plot developments within a mildly experimental narrative. Inexplicably hostile reviews at the Berlin Film Festival, however, mean Dominik Graf’s Der Felsen has no chance of being offered the kind of international exposure that’s being lavished on Sex and Lucia. As it is, it’s very sad to think of all the people around the world who are going to have to sit through Medem’s dross in the mistaken belief they’re watching a serious foreign film.

1st July 2002
(seen 27th June, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle)

by Neil Young
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