Sex and Lucia
Scope: On first viewing, I got a bit lost in the middle, when Lorenzo starts getting involved with the nanny. First, I felt there was so much disavowal and displacement in this quasi-incestuous fantasy, of making love to the nanny, Belen, who is one step removed from his daughter....
Medem: Well, he likes the story that she tells him, and so he goes on to write what he writes....
Scope: But this is why I found it complicated: there is her story, the novel he’s writing, and his own past, and we’re not clear as to what is “real.”
Medem: It is a tangled, bent mass, and I didn’t want to say this is true and this isn’t, because whatever Lorenzo writes, the lives of these people continue. What’s significant is that he keeps going to see Belen in the park, whether her store is are true, or his novel is true doesn’t count for much.
Scope: But there are incestuous undertones within that.
Medem: Lorenzo writes a very strong, sexual difficult novel which is incestuous. I wanted to get to that feverish state of mind, which was not very agreeable to have to imagine. That’s what is going on in his head
(“The Escape Artist: Julio Medem on Sex and Lucia
,” by Tom Charity, Cinemascope
Summer 2002 Issue 11 pp 60-61)
It was Godard who said that “A story has to have a beginning, middle, and end...but not necessarily in that order.” How about a film that lives up to that maxim, and goes one further, without a real ending at all, a “story with many advantages: there is a hole at the end so you can escape to the middle, and change course.” That is Basque director Julio Medem’s newest film, Sex and Lucia
, a twisting, gamelike movie that is at turns very sexy, wild, tragic, romantic, and funny. Scott Tobias in The Onion
aptly described the action of the film as “metanarrative noodling,” even if I don’t personally think that it stifled the action. Personally, I found it hard to stifle. Well, for one thing, the film partially lived up to it’s title. There’s plenty of sex (and my friends wonder why I go to the movies so much; ah, the 10-15 minutes of straight sex scenes between Lucia and Lorenzo, my particular favorite was their mutual striptease, her’s was sexy, his was goofy; in the Medem interview I cite above, he talks about the sex scenes, how some were expertly choreographed, and others were basically ad libbed by the actors, the polaroid scene on the table for instance
, Medem described the shooting as like a “threesome), but if the film really wanted to be truthful, it would be called Sex and Lorenzo
, which unfortunately, just doesn’t roll off the tongue like the film’s actual title (according to Medem, other alternate titles could be Lorenzo and Lucia
or The Story of the Writer and his Reader...
Lorenzo is the nexus of the movie, all that transpired, and all of the characters are connected to him, even if by sheer, almost cosmic coincidence (the various shots of the large, full moon and the blinding light of the sun seem to reinforce this kind of interpretation)
; it is, at times, like six degrees of separation, without so much removal. Is it any wonder that the character of Lorenzo is a writer, or that so much of what transpires during the movie could be just a part of Lorenzo’s novel? Or is it Lorenzo’s work at all? On the surface, it is all contrived, the connected characters, adrift (figuratively, and apparently literally) on a sun-bleached island, the implausible coincidence, the mixture of fantasy and reality? Could it be Medem, reveling in his puppeteering, a gambit supported by the film’s titles, which resemble the pixilated type of a word processor?
If one takes the film literally, and teases out the plot, Lorenzo is a writer in Madrid, who is approached by a beautiful stranger, Lucia, while talking to his agent, Pepe. She tells him that she is in love with him, and so begins there passionate relationship, an adventurous sexual marathon. However, during their relationship, Lorenzo learns he has a daughter, Luna, the product of a one-time tryst, many years ago with a paella chef from Valencia, named Elena. Lorenzo tries to get to know his daughter, and in the process, becomes attracted to her nanny, Belen, and her sexual stories/fantasies involving her porn star mother and her lover.
All the while, Lorenzo uses this as material for his novel. The night he tries to sleep with Belen, a dog kills Luna, driving Lorenzo towards madness. His relationship to Lucia falling apart, he is hit by a car and goes into a coma; Lucia flees Madrid for Lorenzo’s fabled island, where she meets Elena through Carlos, who turns out to be lover of Belen’s mother (who apparently committed suicide). Neither Lucia, Elena, or Carlos can get over their past, just like the comatose Lorenzo. When Lorenzo wakes, he goes to the island with Pepe to find Lucia. Instead he meets Elena, and they finally share their grief. When Lorenzo meets Lucia, the reconcile, and then the film plunges down the rabbit hole, back to the middle of the film, when Lorenzo and Lucia were happy and in love, and when Luna was still alive.
Of course, this makes it sound so simple, but it isn’t. The film begins with the moonlit, oceanic one-night stand between Lorenzo and Elena, on the island (through out the film, the unnamed island is referred to as the “Island” or “Lorenzo’s island”), and then follows Elena (the full moon dissolves into the positive results of a pregnancy test), as she vows to find her baby’s father. Then it flashes forward to the “present,” as Lucia breaks it off with Lorenzo, learns of his accident, and flees to the island. assuming he his dead (it isn’t until much later in the film that we learn that Lorenzo is not dead), trying not only to learn more about what happened to Lorenzo, but also to escape. Then it flashes back to the beginning of Lorenzo and Lucia’s relationship, and the film alternates between scenes of Lorenzo and Lucia’s past, and Lucia’s trip to the island in the present. An interesting point, is that when Lorenzo and Lucia first meet, Pepe, Lorenzo’s agent, is encouraging him to write about his affair with Elena, so maybe the “perfect,” sexual encounter we saw at the beginning of the film is an embellishment? The film proceeds through their relationship (at one point, Elena and Luna pass underneath the window of Lorenzo’s apartment, the point at which the story restarts itself at the end of the movie), quite normally, until Lorenzo’s birthday party, when Pepe tells him about his daughter (it turns out that Pepe’s sister helped deliver Elena’s baby and befriended her, and that Pepe was able to piece together the correct conclusion from Lorenzo’s story and from what his sister told him).
Lorenzo wants to get close to his daughter without anyone knowing that he is the real father, and in the process, he befriends the nanny Belen (I got the strange impression that Belen and Luna seemed to age throughout this sequence). She tells him stories of her life with her mother and her mother’s lover, but she continually backtrack and tells the story differently. Is she making them up? Lying? Or are we getting glimpses of Lorenzo’s reinterpretation (he’s using all of this for his own novel)? To makes matters even more interesting, the images of the mother’s lover (who later turns out to be a man named Carlos, the same one who lives on the island with Elena) are replaced by images of Lorenzo himself. I liked how these scenes are intercut with the touching, father-daughter scenes, which seems to take place on the beaches of the island where Luna was conceived, implying to me that this is fantasy on Lorenzo’s part (they never actually seem to leave Madrid, and at any rate, I doubt that Elena would have allowed a “stranger” to take her daughter away like that)
. It’s perhaps the fact that Medem intercuts scenes between Lorenzo and Luna, and Lorenzo and Belen, that the above writer fixates upon the theme of incest. In any case, fantasy, whether sexual or filial dominates these middle scenes.
Then, in perhaps the most surreal and harrowing part of the film, a vicious dog kills Luna while Lorenzo and Belen prepare to make love, or does it? The way the film is cut together at this point, it is very oblique (did Lorenzo make this up, while it was easy to surmise that she probably died, you couldn’t know for sure until much later in the film, and even then, how sure can we possibly be). The horrified Lorenzo flees the apartment, running at breakneck speed through the streets. Our last glimpse of Luna is of her swimming beneath the waves, cavorting with a mermaid. Then Lorenzo’s descent begins in earnest, as the past catches up with the present, and the guilt-ridden Lorenzo continues to relive the experiences through his own fiction, as well as surreptitiously chatting online with the grieving Elena, telling her a story all of her own. The relationship between Lorenzo and Lucia continues to disintegrate, even as Lucia avidly reads his novelization of these events (which may or may not include the suicide of Belen and her mother, or is it murder?), the film catches up with the opening scenes, and the story of Lucia on the island takes over completely (in the first half of the movie, the film flashes back and forth between the two plot strands), as events later in the film shed light on what happened previously.
Everything begins falling into an improbably neat place. Lucia slowly realizes who Elena really is, and how she relates to Lorenzo and his fiction (strangely, when Lucia first meets Elena, she chats online with a stranger, who later, in flashback is revealed as Lorenzo, though he claims to be the lighthouse keeper; however, at this point of the movie, Lorenzo would have been in a coma, and unable to speak with Elena). Elena and Lucia learn that the police are looking for Carlos, because they want to question him in the disappearance of Belen and her mother (did they disappear, did they kill themselves, or were they murdered); and from Carlos, we Lucia finally learns the “truth,” about what happened to Lorenzo that night at Elena’s apartment.
And at the end, they plunge right back to the beginning, or actually the middle (the film even has a looking glass of sorts, to continue this motif, the beforementioned reflections of Carlos becoming interchangeable with Lorenzo).
Is anything truly real in Sex and Lucia
? I have no idea, and the film does not offer any solid answers, it could be real, a series of implausible, cosmic coincidences, or perhaps it is just Lorenzo’s novel, or both. While that may be frustrating to many people, I think it is one of the film’s strengths, the endless play of interpretation, it all shifts under the viewers feet like the island itself, making one dizzy.