Saucy 'Lucia' a Steamy, Chaotic Mindbender

Directed by: Julio Medem, Runtime: 128 minutes
Grade: B

Billowing music and fuzzy digital typeface for the title credits accompany a swim along the ocean floor at the beginning of Sex and Lucía (Lucía y el sexo). It's an odd, mysterious juxtaposition that familiarizes its audience with a bristly behavior that'll continue throughout Julio Medem's Goya Award-winning film, one that dips its toes into the waters of sexual allure while venturing into the mind of a struggling writer. And yes, there's plenty of carnal activity to be seen, handled with a steamy, almost uncomfortable passion that breeches on voyeurism as its grips our attention. Whether all the sex has a cohesive point is another story, as Sex and Lucía, shot with a mix of lush and overexposed assertiveness by cinematographer Kiko de la Rica, boasts an unsettling-yet-stimulating mood and a few ravishing performances -- especially one from new-comer Paz Vega -- that ultimately lend realism to an impractical, vain erotic fantasy.

Much like Medem's previous film Lovers from the North Pole, Sex and Lucía plays with the structure of time and narrative. At first, we're taken to the present day with Lucía (Vega) working in a restaurant, where she receives a troubling call from her forlorn boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa) -- where he cryptically reflects on the secrets of an island trip he took -- that sends her into a panic. After arriving at his empty apartment, finding only a suicide note, Lucía travels towards the island he talked about in a fit of both curiosity and a need to escape. The story then jumps back to six years prior, dropping us in the middle of a sexual swirl between two people in a moonlit ocean who wish to remain anonymous from one another, except for assorted little hints they're dishing out. Lorenzo, the man in that sexual encounter, reminisces over this occurrence in a bar with his publicist some time later, when he then meets wide-eyed, obsessive Lucia.

Lorenzo and Lucía jump into a relationship after sitting together and fervently talking for only a few minutes, thus beginning their amorous affair. Julio Medem's film begins telling the story of their mojo-driven romance through expressive, lurid scenes of love-making and conversations about their love-making, shown as they trade nude Polaroids of one another, strip for each other, and discuss the best sex that Lorenzo's ever had -- which, naturally, rustles up memories about his past that we're privy to. That level of intimacy breathes raw life into the front portion of Sex and Lucía, a heaving invigoration for the senses that's made intriguing on varied levels with the knowledge of what's to come between the lovers -- heightened further when Lorenzo's secrets begin to shape the picture's dramatic poise. Medem taps into a provocatively raw passion here, causing the film to really smolder during its passionate moments.

As effective as the gradient becomes amid both raw and tender passion, Sex and Lucía also can't escape being the vague facade of a straight man's lurid fantasy instead of affective on a dramatic level, whether intentional or not. Lorenzo's escapades with women overstep the bounds of believability into self-indulgent gratification, from the well-timed birthday rendezvous in the ocean to Lucia's assertive ogling in the bar, though Julio Medem's persistence in keeping them vital to the film's significance comes close to rubbing out their impracticality. As the erotic twists and turns intensify later on -- which includes a stunning, pouty-lipped young daughter (Elena Anaya) to a porn star that, just like Lucía and his birthday girl (Najwa Nimri), becomes fixated with him -- this flimsy grasp on practicality further weakens the actual poignancy that it could concoct about sex.

Thankfully, Sex and Lucía reveals that the realism and psychosis of sex simply aren't the point, eventually pivoting around a connection of events that converge into a far-fetched whirlwind of a conclusion. Conflicted novelist Lorenzo begins to write again as he uses his experiences on the island and in his impassioned modern climate to tell a story, which begin to blur the boundaries of reality and his fiction in our line of sight. But when the film's characters are symbolically transpose into the images that Lorenzo paints with his words, and the drama arises around Lorenzo's past, Medem's storytelling fights against implausible plot devices -- a dog attack here, two people chatting on the internet by happenstance there, and others -- that detract from the sincere gravity Lorenzo and Lucía generate early on. This makes the film's temper erratic as it collapses into a Lynchian jumble of surrealism, deliberately making less and less sense as time progresses.

While welcome in a slightly more grounded Mulholland Drive sort of way, this chaos would've been made more potent had Sex and Lucía concentrated more on building a level of identifiableness with its characters instead of using them as puzzle fragments. You know, other than Lucia. An anchor can thankfully still be found in her, played by Paz Vega with insatiable abandon both in and out of the bedroom, which becomes the only one out of the lot that ensnares an evocative center. Director Medem instead focuses on stitching all the pieces together at the conclusion, ratcheting through the hints and triggers he scattered throughout to paint a whirlwind of exposition. Though chaotic in its connect-the-dots inanity and scatterbrained with unrealized cathartic ideas, it still rewards its audience in an odd way as it hits expected points of intrigue with a stringent level of cinematic craftsmanship.

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