||Equal parts pretentious enigma and artsy porn, Julio Medem's "Sex and Lucia" is a visually flashy but narratively opaque and emotionally vapid exercise in style and mystification. It suggests that after a success d'estime like Alejandro Amenabar's "Open Your Eyes" (Englished as the appalling "Vanilla Sky"), the Spanish film industry has grown ever more fascinated with disjointed, allusive tales that intermingle reality and illusion, ignore chronology and end up bewilderingly obscure rather than provocative or intellectually challenging. Unless you're especially interested in evocative shots of the full moon, which Medem seems to use repeatedly as a kind of meaningless personal signature (he also dubs one of the characters--the one who connects various of the others--Luna, which is of course Latin for "moon"), or enjoy being alternately confused and bored, it's a picture you should definitely cross the street to avoid.
For the record, "Sex and Lucia" involves a bunch of poor souls whose interconnections are revealed in elliptical, strenuously dreamlike fragments which shift randomly between present and past. The central figure is Lucia (Paz Vega), a waitress who takes up with a troubled novelist named Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa). Then there's Elena (Najwa Nimri), who apparently had a child by Lorenzo years earlier and now runs a hostel on an isolated Mediterranean island. The child, Luna (Silvia Llanos), lives back in Spain with a young nurse named Belen (Elena Anaya), who's enamored of her actress-mother's boyfriend Antonio (Daniel Freire). After learning (wrongly, as it turns out) that the suicidal Lorenzo is dead, Lucia proceeds to Elena's island and takes a room at her home, where Antonio, now calling himself Carlos, also has taken refuge after Luna's death (by Rottweiler, it appears). Eventually a recovered Lorenzo follows her there. At least, all this seems to be happening; the ambiguity of what's actually going on is accentuated by the fact that some episodes are recast as elements of a new novel Lorenzo is writing, and so the distinction between the real and the fictional is deliberately left unclear. If you expect the meaning of things to be sorted out by the end, you'll be very disappointed.
The visual scheme that Medem has imposed on the material doesn't help one to sort out matters much. The picture was photographed on digital video, with all the graininess that implies, but to add to the eyestrain many sequences are shot in the gloomiest of shadow and others bathed in sunlight so bright that it results in blinding overexposure. The intent is obviously to add a motif of light versus darkness (or sun versus moon) to the narrative disjunction between the actual and the imagined, but since the elements aren't employed consistently, the effect is simply to render the film even more puzzling. The cast certainly gives its all to the writer-director's dubious vision--including a willingness to bare everything in the fairly numerous sex scenes--but with variable success. Vega captures Lucia's early enthusiasm and her later angst reasonably well, and Ulloa brings a simmering intensity to the role of the tortured artist. Nimri, however, has a more difficult time with Elena, a character whose strangeness never comes into focus, and Freire can't do much with the remote Carlos/Antonio.
The press notes to "Sex and Lucia" blithely name a number of remarkable people--Borges, Bunuel, Lynch, Kieslowski--to whose work Medem's has been compared. Let's just say that on the evidence of this picture, at least, his name doesn't merit being mentioned in their company.