Sex And Lucía

Spanish director Julio Medem's last film, 1998's Lovers Of The Arctic Circle, was an impassioned love story fashioned around palindromes, with everything from the characters (Ana and Otto) to the story structure to his own surname falling in line. At the time, it seemed like a clever gimmick, spicing up an ordinary romance with pleasing narrative symmetry and a dash of cosmic coincidence. But the trickery becomes epidemic in Medem's new Sex And Lucía, which stifles its intense eroticism with so much metafictional noodling that the action loses all consequence. Medem turns screenwriting into a feng shui exercise, shifting story elements like pieces of furniture around a room, as if the best films are the ones that end up facing southeast. Before truth and fiction are rolled onto the same ball of twine, Medem and his uninhibited cast lay out the beginnings of a potentially scintillating l'amour fou, sparked by equal degrees of chance and lust. A successful writer and playboy living in Madrid, Tristán Ulloa locks eyes with the ravishing Paz Vega, a stranger who claims she's madly in love with him and asks to move into his apartment. After a blissful period of nonstop sexual acrobatics, their relationship changes as a secret surfaces from Ulloa's past: Several years earlier, on a remote Mediterranean island, an anonymous encounter with the beautiful Najwa Nimri led to her pregnancy, and she's now intent on finding the child's father. When Ulloa runs off for good one night, Vega journeys to the island to figure out what happened to him. From there, Sex And Lucía piles on the convolutions, adding a subplot about Ulloa's heated tryst with his daughter's nanny, who herself is the daughter of a famous porn star and the owner of a vicious guard dog that figures into the film's most outrageous plot twist. The island turns out to be a sun-bleached metaphor, inhabited only by the principal characters, complete with an actual rabbit's hole that leads to some other plane of existence. Once it's revealed that Ulloa's fiction includes all these people and events, Medem throws the entire question of what is and isn't real up in the air, with the distinct possibility that the entire film may be a long, overheated male fantasy. At a certain point, Sex And Lucía starts to resemble Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters In Search Of An Author, with Medem in the role of puppetmaster jerking his patient cast in a variety of directions. It's enough to take all the pleasure out of wild sex–a dubious achievement, but perhaps Medem's most impressive trick yet.

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