Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:13 pm 
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Talented filmmaker produces a sexy, arty mess

In a bar a pretty young Spanish girl walks up to a cute young Spanish man with a goofy expression and says she adores his novel and has been watching him and fallen madly in love with him. She wants to start an affair right now and she hopes eventually he'll fall in love with her, too. 'I already have, he says,' and off they go. Thus 'Sex and Lucía' begins. And this was the grabber in the previews.

This premise might be appealing to some: my heart sank. The setup is too easy and too bland. The girl (Paz Vega: nice body; not much of an actress) looks like some sort of Madrid airhead debutante. (Actually in the movie she's only a waitress and has no pedigree.) The guy seems utterly naïve. Is this a couple I want to spend a couple of hours with? If Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa: nice face; not much of a body) is really the writer he's supposed to be, why doesn't he say 'Thank you very much, but I've got some writing to do'? The girl is pretty, but she's a stalker and a kook. It soon transpires that Lorenzo relies on what he experiences, or is told, for all the material in his novels, which are straightforward, simple narratives of the events depicted in this film. Not that the way they're put together turns out to be simple.

Or are we seeing only narratives that he has imagined? Neither Lorenzo nor the filmmaker, Julio Medem, much cares if people are telling the truth or not, or if events narrated are imaginary or real. It's all part of the fun of storytelling, Medem style. The narrative is self-reflective and artificial in a way that results in our ultimate bafflement. But though a lot of weird things happen, Lorenzo and Lucía are reunited at the end. What the future holds in store for them is anybody's guess, but I'd wager there will be sex, angst, and a lighthouse involved in the sequel. I hope that Medem, who clearly has gifts as a filmmaker, will bypass the sequel and try something less baroque next time.

Fast forward, and agitated music tells us there is trouble with Lucía and Lorenzo. Lucía gets a phone call from the police. Something has happened to Lorenzo. As she holds the phone, she picks up a note from Lorenzo, sort of a goodbye. The cop says something about Lorenzo and his motorcycle and bad news, and Lucía hangs up. Wait a minute, now: if your lover is in serious trouble and the police are calling, you don't hang up. But this illogical action is necessary so Lucía can be surprised later on in the movie when Lorenzo turns out to be alive.

This first section is headed 'Lucía.' Now begins section two, 'Sex.' We never get to section three. Modem's 'non-linear' narrative style leaves a lot of holes this time (this movie isn't as successful as his previous 'Los Amantes del Círcolo Polar,' Lovers of the Polar Circle, which was elegant and entrancing, if somewhat lightweight). In fact his symbolic island, which Lucia goes to after Lorenzo's accident, because he's spoken of it so much, is literally full of holes, which characters fall into. (Their story goes back to its middle when that happens, we're told.)

How necessary the graphic sex is, is hard to say. It's not any more justified here than in any other movie about people who're sexually involved with each other. It may be natural for Lucía to walk around the apartment naked after her first night with Lorenzo, but is it necessary for us to see that? I don't think so. But she does have a nice body. Both the title and the sex scenes seem contrived mainly to draw in more viewers. 'Lovers of the Polar Circle' was a great deal more subtle, partly through being infinitely more restrained. In 'Sex and Lucía,' there's a grotesque disparity between the no doubt honest pretensions of the author/filmmaker to create a complex and engaging narrative, and the constant moments of bathetic porn. A low point is the introduction of a macho, but undeveloped character - actually two undeveloped characters played by one actor, Carlos and Antonio (Daniel Freire), described as having the largest dick in the world. This is art? You could have fooled me.

And the plot is as expressionistic and overwrought as the sexuality. By the time we encounter Lorenzo' love child, Luna, and her sexy baby-sitter, the baby-sitter's ex-porn-queen mother, and Luna's death by rottweiler because of Lorenzo's carelessness while having sex with the babysitter, it's all become way too much.

There's a woman on the island running a guest house (there are guests too, but they're just wallpaper). She's Luna's mother, and had anonymous sex with Alfonzo six years before. I guess Alfonzo isn't as needy a guy as he seems in the scene where he first meets Lucía. Maybe he does have a problem with sex, though. Somehow I find all the risky sexuality and writerly angst difficult to attribute to the actor playing Alfonzo, Tristán Ulloa. He still always has that sweet, goofy face from beginning to end. His character is right when he says at one point he knows nothing about fatherhood. We don't learn much about that, or even about love, or anything much else in life, from this picture. Perhaps we do learn something about storytelling -- about how it can get too tangled up if you let it, and the result will be a sexy, arty mess.

August 2, 2002

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