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Film and Fixation

Basque film director Julio Medem explores the human psyche


Basque films are often described as overlooked or undervalued, but the last decade has produced a number of examples that contradict traditional opinions. A principal figure in this transformation has been writer and director Julio Medem. His emergence onto the scene in 1992 with Vacas earned him a Goya (the Spanish equivalent of an Academy Award) and launched him into the spotlight. To date, Medem has released six feature films, each receiving much acclaim and innumerable honors. His seventh major picture, Caotica Ana, is scheduled for release in October.

Medem's films are dominated by his fascination with psychology. He is a graduate of the University of Basque Country, holding a master's degree in medicine and surgery, but his passion has always been the mental and emotional state of the human psyche. His films are heavily weighted with sexual content, revealing his interest in Freudian concepts and making them both memorable and risqué to the viewing public. The plots are intricate, frequently circular narratives exploring fate. These unconventional films will leave viewers questioning and contemplating for days.

Viewers will know very quickly whether Sex and Lucia is a film that they are interested in watching. The title conceals nothing, quite the opposite, in fact-it neatly sums up the film in the most concise manner possible. The opening scenes submerge you into eroticisms as soon as the credits fade, and they only progress in content. What American audiences and filmmakers would consider racy is only the tip of the iceberg to Medem. Sex and Lucia hovers dangerously on the edge of pornography in parts, and Medem cleverly slips footage of an actual adult film into a few scenes.

Sex aside, Lucia's story is intriguing. Medem has created a unique, multi-dimensional main character. While most leading ladies convey qualities that other women display or admire, Lucia is like no one else. She is brazen in ways that most women can scarcely dream of, yet endearingly open and vulnerable. The title is devoted to her, but this is not her story alone.

Medem has woven together several lives to convey the fragile thread that connects us to people we may not even know, and then takes it a step farther, introducing chance encounters or even the notion of fate. Lucia's present partner, Lorenzo, is the central connection of all the characters in the film. He is a once-successful writer, struggling to maintain a standard set by his first novel. Lorenzo is almost too stereotypical-haunted by writer's block, on the brink of depression, dramatically needy-qualities conveyed in nearly all fictitious writers. In this circumstance, however, these qualities work in his favor. The complex plot line demands a character who would be torn in many directions and unable to rationalize.

The basic outline of the story is simple: Man has chance sexual encounter with woman, which unbeknownst to him leads to pregnancy. Meanwhile, man meets and falls in love with another woman, blissfully unaware that he is the father of a child living somewhere in the same city. Years later, man arbitrarily discovers this fact, and discreetly seeks the child out. Beyond that basic foundation, the story quickly becomes convoluted.

Medem utilizes flashbacks, creating one story that takes place in present time, and one that leads up to, and eventually intersects with, present time. The plot becomes more difficult to interpret during scenes that show Lorenzo drafting his novel, urging the viewer to question what is real and what is Lorenzo's fiction. Like many great films, the end of Sex and Lucia leaves viewers uncertain. Medem does not neatly wrap the plot up and hand it over in a tidy package. He closes it with mystery. Some of the details are best left to the viewer's interpretation, in my opinion, but there are also a few that cannot be solved without further information.

With no disrespect to the intricacies of Modem's writing intended, I cannot help but notice that the storyline strikingly resembles that of a romance novel, written from the perspective of a man. The central focus is a love that the main characters have for each other, and the challenges they face. Another key element is a secret capable of coming between the main characters, in this case, Lorenzo and his daughter. Lorenzo's eventual lust for his daughter's nanny adds not only the necessary element of betrayal, but the melodrama. Extreme coincidence is also used throughout the story, and the unlikely probability that most of the characters have slept with each other at some point in their lives screams romance novel.

The sex scenes are undeniably written from a male perspective, however. Each is wildly fantastical, some bordering on impossible due to Newton's Laws and general physics. The probability of one of these encounters is not out of the realm of reality, but for Lorenzo, a man of average looks and low self-worth, to be involved in each of them would make him a hero among men.

The complexities of the script alone make the film worth watching. Medem tangles the plot into a labyrinth but manages to keep it together throughout. It is also noteworthy that the viewer is not able to predict which direction the story is headed, and certainly would not be able to foresee the ending. Medem slips multiple subtle clues into the film that go unnoticed until second or third viewings, displaying his wit and humor, and possibly mocking viewers as well. The actors are all relatively unknown by Hollywood standards, but deserving of praise for their portrayals of the complicated characters in this film. Finally, I would be remiss to ignore the scenery. The backdrop of white sandy beaches and translucent sea are certainly not eyesores.

Get in the mood for Jaialdi festivities (or something else ... ) by renting a video written and directed by the Basque region's most prolific filmmaker. It's an experience I guarantee you won't soon forget.

Sex and Lucia is available to rent from the Flicks video store.