Sex and Lucia… and the Island

SEX AND LUCIA
Julio Medem, 2001

This really isn’t an island. It’s a giant lid. A floating piece of earth. Like a raft.

– Carlos
For someone who used to sneak at night to shoot films using his father’s Super 8 camera, Sex and Lucia is an ambitious work. It is probably the pinnacle of Julio Medem’s filmmaking career.
From the guy who turned down the opportunity to direct The Mask of Zorro comes Sex and Lucia, an emotionally intriguing — if not discombobulating — film. Medem uses nonlinear narrative to give an air of suspense and mystery to the characters. The film proves that you don’t need to start from the start to effectively tell a story. “Because in the end, there’s a hole to escape through. Back to the middle.

The film is divided into two parts: Lucia and Sex. Lucia introduces us to Lucia (a pre-Spanglish Paz Vega), she is an attractive waitress at a Mediterranean restaurant somewhere in Madrid.

First scene of the film shows an extremely worried Lucia talking to her extremely troubled boyfriend on the phone. The extremely troubled boyfriend is Lorenzo (a rugged yet boyish Tristan Ulloa), he is a writer. At first Medem doesn’t tell us what’s wrong with Lorenzo, but we know that he is in deep trouble because Lucia is in deep distress. So distressed that she decides to go to “Lorenzo’s island,” hoping to see him there.

Instead of spoon-feeding us with answers to Lucia and Lorenzo’s problems, the narrative quickly shifts into its second part: Sex. It is also during this part that we first see Lorenzo onscreen. Some six years ago, Lorenzo had a one-night stand with a random woman (a compellingly charming Najwa Nimri). Submerged in the sea, the night was deep, the moon was bright, and their libido was at its peak. Lorenzo and the random woman agreed to part ways without giving each other’s names. The random woman eventually becomes pregnant with Lorenzo’s child.
Lorenzo later had a random acquaintance with a brunette guapita who introduces herself as Lucia; that was the first time Lorenzo ever laid eyes on the beautiful creature, while that was probably the nth time she looked at him. Yes, she is his stalker. Lucia is a big fan of Lorenzo the writer. (Not the Annie Wilkes type of fan, but almost.) She said she is in love with him and wants to live with him. Baffled, Lorenzo grabs some ciggie as Lucia goes on to tell him about her stalking moments. Being a pervert that he is, Lorenzo gives in to Lucia’s proposal.
And so Lucia and Lorenzo live together and have great sex. Happily ever after? Not exactly. Lorenzo later learns from his editor (Almodovar actor Javier Camara) that he is the father of a six year-old girl named Luna (Silvia Llanos), who was conceived at an isolated island during a deep night when the moon was bright; hence the name “Luna.” Currently having a writer’s block, Lorenzo uses this revelation as an inspiration for his new book.

Without the knowledge of the random woman and Lucia, Lorenzo gets to see Luna with the help of her nanny: a nymphomaniac named Belen (a naughty and nubile Elena Anaya). He also learns that the random woman’s name is Elena.
Lorenzo is inspired and aroused by Belen’s erotic stories; how she would masturbate with the help of her porn star mom’s videos, thinking about her biggest crush: Antonio, her mom’s lover. Fascinated and sexually intrigued by Belen, Lorenzo flirts with the nympho nanny. A whimsical act that would later lead to a tragedy, something which would torment Lorenzo for the rest of his life. (“I’ve left. There’s no coming back.“)
Let me go back to the middle part of the film — the film, not the story — Lucia meets a diver (a rugged, unshaven, and ubermasculine Daniel Freire) during her sojourn at “Lorenzo’s island.” The manly man introduces himself as Carlos. We — along with Lucia — first see Carlos as he emerges from the depths of the sea. During a conversation with Lucia, he says to her: “Right. The girl waits on the pretty side, and the crab explores the ugly, horrible side.” Carlos probably means that he has been deeply in love, and has seen the ugly side of love.

He goes on saying: “I’ve dived underneath the whole island. It’s totally hollow. Thousands of caves, but nothing else. Not a single rock connects it to the seafloor.” Whoa. Talk about some existential cynicism. He later asks Lucia: “You want to see the good things on this island? I want you to meet Elena.

Yes, Elena — the random woman Lorenzo had casual sex with six years ago. Elena is an accommodating and optimistic woman, quite an opposite to her sexmate Carlos’ somewhat introverted and cynical personality. Lucia later lives with Elena and Carlos at Elena’s guest house, a place where the two ladies learn the truth about “Carlos” and how their lives are actually connected.
Medem uses some symbolisms: the moon, the sun, the seabed, the lighthouse, and the island.
Here’s my take on the symbolisms:
The moon – it most likely represents the women in the film. Lorenzo had sex with Elena while a big bright moon looks on. Lorenzo and Elena’s daughter is named Luna, a Spanish word for moon.
Earlier in the film, a distressed and crying Lucia looks at the moon as it hides behind the clouds. Later, a calm and smiling Lucia looks at the moon again; the moon hides behind the cloud but immediately reappears.
One of the subplots of the film is female domination. Although quite vulnerable, Lucia is a bold and brave woman who relentlessly goes after what/who she wants.
Lorenzo’s weaknesses are sex and women. Every time Lucia and Lorenzo have sex, they start with Lucia on top, taking the lead and getting the party started. Lorenzo would later follow through, eventually topping Lucia. Lucia, not Lorenzo, is the one who’s always initiating the sex, which shows Lorenzo’s submission to Lucia’s domination.
When the moon hid earlier from Lucia, it is to symbolize that Lucia is now “controlled” by Lorenzo, or rather, Lorenzo’s “loss.” That’s why the moon permanently hid behind the clouds. She can’t “dominate” him anymore.
Later when the moon reappeared to Lucia, she is now in full control of herself; she is almost over Lorenzo.
The sun – it probably symbolizes Lorenzo. Lucia would often look at the sun. It makes her happy. She also sings a song that goes: “A ray of sunshine brought your love to me.” The song is in Spanish, of course.
The seabed – the characters’ innermost feelings.
The lighthouse – I don’t know what it aims to symbolize. I’ll look it up again later.
The island – it symbolizes the characters’ past. It also embodies the “it’s a small world” saying. The characters — except Luna, Belen, and Belen’s mother — all went to the island to seek refuge and a new life; only to find the past that they try to run away from.
SPOILER: The end credits go backwards, just like the characters and the narrative.
The film starts as a sensual feast, later transforming into a poetic mystery. Sex and Lucia is a really personal film that revolves around the universal theme of sex. Medem uses sex as the film’s plot device, because sex — no matter how casual it is — connects people in a way that transcends the physical, whether we like it or not. Medem presents these characters who f*ck up their lives by f*cking. He shows us how sex affects these people’s lives, how it connects strangers in an intimate manner.

Lucia says, “I’ve always been around good cooks. I don’t know why.” We get our answer during Lucia and Elena’s scene near the lighthouse. “You’re a gift to this earth,” says Elena to Lucia. Both Lorenzo and Elena can cook. Lucia is like an ingredient to these cooks. She connects these people without her knowing it.

The film’s photography is awesome. Cinematographer Kiko de la Rica uses intense lighting during the island sequences. I especially love the scenes at the shore; the white sand beach, the clear blue sea. Nice. Too bright, but nice.

Alberto Iglesias is the film’s music guy. His musical score is mesmerizing. The piece during the opening credits exudes a feeling of mystique and doom, which is what Lorenzo the writer experiences in the film.

The casting is good. Paz Vega perfectly utilizes her innocent yet dominating sensuality. Tristan Ulloa is a good choice for Lorenzo, because he has this “naive” charisma underneath his rugged image, just like Lorenzo.

Najwa Nimri, one of the sexiest names I’ve heard, has worked with Medem in Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Room in Rome. She is charming and sweet as the affable Elena.

Medem also chose openly gay actors Daniel Freire and Elena Anaya, maybe because Medem wants to tell us that “there’s more to their characters.” Or maybe he wants to speak to the gay community as well; he probably wants to say that the film is not just about and for straight people. Medem later worked with Anaya in his lesbionic minimalist film, Room in Rome.
Sex and Lucia is an intricate yet fascinating film. It somehow requires your full attention and deep understanding, which isn’t hard to do because Medem gives us this puzzle, letting us put the pieces together while he reveals his answers later on.
Trailer for Sex and Lucia:

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