Los Angeles Times

'Sex and Lucia'

Times Staff Writer

If you're over the age of consent, you know that common sense and sexual passion don't often exist in the same time and space. That point is lustily demonstrated by "Sex and Lucia," one very steamy, very incoherent motion picture.

The kind of trifle that date nights were invented for, the lushly romantic "Sex and Lucia" is the newest film from Spanish writer-director Julio Medem. It was nominated for 12 Goyas, the Spanish version of the Oscars, and took home a few, including best new actress for star Paz Vega, but it's safe to assume that "most rigorous narrative logic" wasn't one of its categories.

Medem has been down at least part of this road before with his last film, "Lovers of the Arctic Circle." Although the climate and the relationships are noticeably hotter this time around, "Sex and Lucia" again demonstrates Medem's love of chance and contrivance, his willingness to stack preposterous coincidences one on top of the other until we're dizzy from trying to keep things straight. If plausibility is any part of what you go to movies for, this one will be a challenge. On the other hand, "Sex and Lucia" subversively encourages us to toss plausibility aside, to discard it like a heavy overcoat mistakenly brought along on a tropical vacation. Medem is one of the few directors who understands sensuality and knows how to make it happen on screen. "Sex and Lucia" specializes in pleasant eroticism, using nudity, Koko de la Rica's dreamy cinematography and Alberto Iglesias' Goya-winning score to create episodes of voluptuous lovemaking.

Although most of "Sex and Lucia" is no more than American adult audiences are used to, there are moments that go further. In line with a current European art-house trend for show-it-all explicitness, the film doesn't hesitate to feature brief shots of erections. (Because Medem absolutely refused to cut these scenes for U.S. distribution, the film is going out unrated through Chris Blackwell's Palm Pictures, a small and more venturesome distributor.)

"Sex and Lucia's" complex, often confusing fusion of reality and fantasy begins with Lucia (Vega), a Madrid waitress involved in a tempestuous relationship with novelist Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa), who is having problems he can't bring himself to confide in her.

Returning to their apartment, Lucia finds Lorenzo gone. After a devastating phone call, she packs up and flees to an unnamed Mediterranean island.

Next we flash back six years, before Lorenzo knew Lucia, to a passionate moonlit sexual adventure he had with a woman (Najwa Nimri, the star of "Arctic Circle") whose name he doesn't know. What Lorenzo also doesn't know is that this liaison had consequences.

Now "Sex and Lucia" alternates between two plot strands. One is what happens to Lucia on the island, how she interacts with the people she runs into, individuals who turn out to have, depending on your point of view, either magical or ridiculous connections to the rest of the story.

The second thread is a flashback to how Lucia and Lorenzo met and how their relationship developed. Sex had a lot to do with it, and it is much to the film's benefit that performers Vega and Ulloa are not only a handsome couple, but also exude a likability that makes us happy to see them so content.

At a certain point, as writers will, Lorenzo starts another novel, and this is where "Sex and Lucia" gets truly confusing. It becomes increasingly difficult to tell if the people on screen actually exist, if they're products of his imagination or if they're half-real, half-imagined hybrids. Or maybe the notion is that Lorenzo invests so much of himself in his fictional story that it becomes real.

This is the kind of thing that will give you a headache if you think about it too much.

Precisely to keep us from thinking, "Sex and Lucia" throws in frequent shots of unclothed cast members. It also counts on our assuming that its out-there plot is as much of a pleasant fantasy as the beautiful bodies and the steamy liaisons. "Sex and Lucia" has a tendency to be too pleased with itself, and it doesn't have the emotional resonance it aspires to. But if you want to throw reason to the wind, it's certainly a diverting place to start.

No MPAA rating. Times guidelines: extremely explicit sexual content.

'Sex and Lucia'

Paz Vega ... Lucia

Tristan Ulloa ... Lorenzo

Najwa Nimri ... Elena

Elena Anaya ... Belen

A Sogecine Film produced by Alicia Produce with the participation of TVE and Canal+ Spain, released by Palm Pictures. Director Julio Medem. Producers Fernando Bovaira, Enrique Lopez Lavigne. Executive producer Anna Cassina. Screenplay Julio Medem. Cinematographer Koko de la Rica. Editor Ivan Aledo. Costumes Estibaliz Markiegui. Music Alberto Iglesias. Art director Montserrat Sanz. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.

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