Is it just a quirk of u.s. distribution, or are Spanish filmmakers developing a fetish for turning erotic death yarns into barely coherent cinematic Mobius strips? First, there was Open Your Eyes (1999), the surreal love triangle that inspired Cameron Crowe to abandon all good sense. Now we have Sex and Lucia, a truly titillating and truly convoluted tale of l’amour fou. Perhaps the American remake could be titled Hot Fudge Ripple Sky.
At first, we think we’re watching the story of Lucia (Paz Vega), a waitress who recalls her beautiful, tragic love affair with Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa), a novelist who looks like the fifth member of ABBA. We’re told from the outset that Lorenzo is going to crack up, and badly. Yet in flashback, the two seem ideally matched, especially in bed, where their lovemaking is a seductive union of romance, playful role reversal, and libidinous compulsion. Imagine a Penelope Cruz who acted as soulfully as she looked in photographs, and you’d have Paz Vega, who spends much of the film casually naked yet projects the deep-dish yearning of an earlier generation of stars. Vega is a real find. Too bad the movie strands her — and the audience.
The problems begin with Lorenzo’s dark secret: During an anonymous sexual encounter on a tropical isle, he fathered a little girl. His mission to reunite with her is recounted in a novel he’s writing, which we see scenes from. Or are they reality? His crusade leads to a wild but disastrous hookup with the girl’s nanny and the nanny’s porn-star mother, at which point Sex and Lucia starts to resemble a loony-tunes Almodovar soaper played straight (a contradiction if ever there was one). And that, folks, is the accessible part of the movie. As it goes on, Sex and Lucia becomes an opaque muddle of what-if and what-ever. The movie does qualify as an art-house turn-on, but adult sexuality already has enough kinks. It doesn’t need to be tied in knots.