Sex and Lucia is Julio Medem’s moving, sensually rich film about the titular Lucia (Paz Vega) and her attempts to understand, in retrospect, her troubled relationship with her writer boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa) after his disappearance and apparent suicide. The film shifts easily between scenes on a quiet island where Lucia goes to recover, and scenes from the past that blend Lucia and Lorenzo’s real relationship with sequences that may be real or may be merely imaginative fantasies from the pages of Lorenzo’s latest novel. The present-tense sequences on the island are shot in a high-contrast style where the sun seems to be blurring everything towards a pure white nothingness, giving these scenes an austere, drained visual aesthetic that’s the opposite of the sensuality on display throughout the rest of the film.
Medem plays so cleverly with the line between fiction and reality that it’s never quite clear what’s real and what’s not, and it hardly matters. What the film is really about is the power of desire and sexuality, the temptations of fantasy, and the comforts of a sustained relationship as opposed to the transitory but passionate release of a brief dalliance. There’s a real darkness and emotional nakedness at the film’s core, a sense of sexuality spiraling into death and confusion, but Medem is equally concerned with the joy and pleasure of sex. There are few films that represent sex on screen with greater beauty or sensitivity, capturing above all the fun of great sex. Most movie sex scenes are either sappy and shot with soft-porn stylization, or else gritty and unpleasant and degrading. Sex as visualized by Medem is profoundly happy and pure, with an intimacy and playfulness that establishes the real affection and connection between these characters. At the same time, Medem deals honestly and openly with sex, both its pleasures and its repercussions, and he doesn’t flinch away from the uglier moments. He has made a film in which sex is no longer a dirty word but simply an essential part of life and love, a beautiful act that reveals certain truths about these people that can be seen no other way.