Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Is Spain Calling: Sex and Lucia (2001)

A woman is sitting outside in a restaurant on a bright Spring Mediterranean afternoon. She takes a casual look at the bilingual menu. Just then a waiter appears (we see him from waist down) and asks her in not so polite manner what she wants in Spanish. When she doesn't respond for a few seconds, he switches to English and asks her where she's from. "From Malta", she lies. He makes a familiar, albeit superficial, comment on how crowded Malta is for its size. He then asks her what she would like. "Paella", she says, struggling to mask her accent. He doesn't seem to notice it. He says they only serve paella for two - no single portions are available. Taken aback, she looks around the rest of the patrons in the restaurant - all couples. Tears begin to stream down her face. She gets up, apologises profusely in broken English and walks away.

If there ever is a better way to show when the reality sinks in on somebody's mortal loss, I would like to see it.

Sex and Lucía is the Basque director Julio Medem's masterpiece. Straying away from his earlier fixation on finding the Basque identity in films with increasing perplexity and (il)logic, he paints a film that is equally mesmerising in its narrative complexity and, crucially, in emotional intensity. Paz Vega (the incredibly beautiful former TV persona) plays Lucía: a waitress that is head-over-heels in love with a troubled writer, Lorenzo. When the police calls in to tell her of Lorenzo's fatal accident, she flees Madrid to go to the island that meant so much to him, yet its reasons have always eluded her. She settles in with Elena, the owner of a beautiful guest house, and her only other guest: a diver named Carlos.

In another narrative, Medem shows the beginning of Lucía and Lorenzo's love affair. Soon, as their relationship is about to hit the plateau, Lorenzo discovers a secret that deeply affects him. While hiding it from Lucía, he further sinks into a deep abyss that he cannot escape. And we cut to the present.

This fairly straightforward flashback-narrative could have been bland, uninteresting, and very morose (considering the story at hand). But in Medem's hands (who is so adept at mixing reality and fantasy), we are in constant querying mode whether we are in the present, in the flashback, in one of Lorenzo's stories, or in Lucía's subconscious. Everything is seamlessly woven together and the end result is none of them and all of them at the same time. It is quite perplexing, yet very engaging.

One of the first impressions that you will get as the story really kicks in is that there is a lot of sex. Lots. Plenty of flesh to sate everyone who wants to see them. It feels a little gratuitous, but how Medem manages to make even this obsession of showing as much explicit sex as he can part of his story shows his maturity as a filmmaker.

It is shot in extreme bright hues and colours that further underlines its dream-like quality. This is not a Lynchian mind-fuck, but an intelligently woven story whose ambiguities will haunt you for a very, very long time.

It is a near-perfect film. And I can't give a higher praise than that.


Amy said...

Nice! I saw this years ago and loved it too... time for a re-watch!!

The Bru said...

Thanks, Amy! I love it more each time I watch it again.


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