Julio Medem’s astonishing, magical-realist love story “Sex and Lucía” is easily the best Spanish film since “All About My Mother.” But such a statement actually undersells the beauty of what Medem has created, which in many ways rather defies description. Not one of Medem’s previous films – including “The Red Squirrel,” “Tierra” and “Lovers of the Arctic Circle” – has gotten a proper release in America. God willing, that will change with his new film, which is a masterwork by any definition.
“Sex and Lucía” enraptures from its opening seconds, with the camera gently tracking along the sea floor. We’re in the vicinity of an unnamed island whose significance will be revealed later; it need only be said that this island has seemingly magical powers to unite – and reunite – the people who venture there. When we meet Lucía (the captivating Paz Vega), a young waitress in Madrid, she refers to the island in a phone conversation with her distraught boyfriend, novelist Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa). Knowing the importance the island has had in Lorenzo’s past, Lucía begs him to take her there, where together they might rekindle their relationship. But Lorenzo, from the sound of his voice, is long past the point of no return.
Fate sees to it that Lucía does make her way to the island, to heal herself “alone in the sun.” Cinematographer Kiko de la Rica composes dazzling images in these early scenes. The island setting was clearly a tonic to him; he furnishes sun-bleached whites and desaturated blues that are just exquisite, ravishing.
A turn right out of “Alice in Wonderland” finds Lucía reliving the inception of her five-year relationship with Lorenzo, from her forthright approach (a fan of his first book, she declares her love for him on the spot) to their instant sexual connection (explosive is an understatement). Medem’s sex scenes, abundant and varied, are like none you’ve ever seen, very explicit yet playful and awesomely romantic. The moment Lucía cries out “I’m dying!” when she climaxes is neither silly nor salacious – in Medem’s hands, it becomes weirdly, extraordinarily powerful.
The complexity of the film’s interconnected love stories, factual and fictional, past and present, are such that the above only comprises the first half-hour or so. What follows you will simply have to discover for yourself. The acting alone is worth any filmgoer’s time. Vega is a superstar in the making (fear her, Penelope…) and there’s chemistry to burn between her and Ulloa.
In Lucía, Medem and Vega have invented a character who is fierce and tender, sensual and tough, altogether unforgettable.
Brilliant in every respect, “Sex and Lucía” is a rich, rewarding journey. The most wondrous love story in years, it is a great film.