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Lucia in Wonderland Paz Vega goes in search of her lost boyfriend on a nameless island in 'Sex and Lucía.'

Rabbit Hole

Julio Medem's 'Sex and Lucía' dishes up Borgesian erotica from Spain

By Richard von Busack

IN ITS NATIVE Spain, the film Sex and Lucía is known as Lucía and Sex; the title reversal for export stresses the real appeal of the film in our nation of unsexy movies. But Sex and Lucía really ought to have been titled Emmanuelle on Borges Island. A Madrid waitress named Lucía (Paz Vega, who is a cross between Winona Ryder and Patricia Arquette) falls immediately in love with a blocked writer who comes to her restaurant. Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa) and Lucía have wild sex and move in together. But as the months go past, Lucía begins to realize that she doesn't have all of the writer's attention. Is it the book Lorenzo is laboring over--is that her rival? Or is Lorenzo distracted by his own memory of a tryst he had long ago on a faraway beach?

Later, when Lorenzo turns up missing, he is presumed dead under circumstances that Lucía doesn't really investigate. Most lovers would want to say goodbye, if only to the body. Instead, she decides to go for a vacation on the unnamed Mediterranean island where Lorenzo once lived (and where, we know, he had that one magic evening years ago). While Lucía is exploring a cliff, she falls into a hole. The hole is real--the opening of a cave. But it's also symbolic, since once Lucía falls in, the story begins again from the beginning, this time telling us all the details that Lucía knew nothing of.

We learn of Lorenzo's simmering affair with a nanny named Belén (Elena Anaya), a woman of a fantastically troubled sex life (she lusts after her own mother). And we also learn that the child in Belén's care has a secret of her own. The little girl is a key to the unfinished business that tormented Lorenzo.

Confused yet? Sex and Lucía would be an easy to read sexual melodrama if it weren't for the Moebius strip plot. The most flamboyant parts--Belén's anarchic sex life--may be so unbelievable because they're fiction within fiction, a creation of Lorenzo's writing. This could be the story of a writer having a torrid affair with one of his characters. But the idea of who, what or where in Sex and Lucía becomes more of a matter of opinion than fact, because director/writer Julio Medem (Lovers of the Arctic Circle) delivers some passages with marbles in his mouth. Take, for example, the death of a little girl in a savage dog attack; the sequence is so badly directed that you can't figure out what happened for nearly an hour afterward.

Sex and Lucía offers the familiar disconcerting effect of sitting through a movie in which the reels have been confused. The careless viewer may watch it on the level of fancy-schmancy erotica, upon which it works very well. However, a dry satire of the banality of men's sexual fantasies can be just as banal as the fantasies themselves.

Sex and Lucía (Unrated; 128 min.), directed and written by Julio Medem, photographed by Kiko de la Rica and starring Paz Vega and Tristán Ulloa, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

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From the July 25-31, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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