Dir: Julio Medem. Spain. 2001. 127mins.

Although Sex And Lucia (Lucia Y El Sexo) lives up to its name and won't disappoint audiences looking for erotic material, it is first and foremost a romantic film, weaving a captivating tale which ends on a pleasingly optimistic note after dropping to some pretty dark depths. Writer-director Julio Medem may have to tone down some of his most explicit scenes, however, if he hopes for a mainstream theatrical release in certain territories, particularly the US. The film's two hour-plus running time could survive such cuts.

The film was reportedly turned down by some festivals due to graphic content (which includes a male erection), though it will finally screen in Toronto and should leave its greatest mark on the festival and arthouse circuit. What's more, as seen with Mexico's Y Tu Mama Tambien, controversy can attract attention. Opening weekend grosses in Spain of $456,840 placed Sex third in the top ten.

Lucia (Vega) may appear in the title but it is her lover Lorenzo (Ulloa), a struggling novelist, who is the central character. After a fantastical one-night stand, a nameless lover secretly bears Lorenzo a daughter. Years later, happily settled with new love Lucia, he finds out about the daughter and begins visiting her anonymously. There he falls into a dangerous flirtation with the girl's sexually precocious nanny (Anaya) which unleashes a series of tragedies. Believing Lorenzo dead, Lucia escapes to Lorenzo's native island where she ends up renting a room from Elena (Nimri), the mother of Lorenzo's daughter. Key segments of the film are told through Lorenzo's writing, which improves at a pace with his increasing despair.

Shot with a high-definition digital camera, Kiko de la Rica's photography is crisp and picturesque and memorably captures the light and dark moods of the film, including blinding overexposure on the sun-drenched island where Lucia flees. The musical soundtrack compiled by Alberto Iglesias is similarly fitting, and a cast of attractive young talent all give commendable performances, particularly Vega and Nimri.

Medem's films float somewhere between reality and fantasy, with multiple interwoven stories and characters circling one other. They also play with time, skipping back and forth between past and present. He boasts a following at home and abroad thanks to offbeat films like Cows (Vacas), The Red Squirrel (La Ardilla Roja) and Earth (Tierra). In terms of form and content, Sex And Lucia most resembles his last film, The Lovers Of The Arctic Circle (Los Amantes Del Circulo Polar), which won wide acclaim around the world (Lucia was even said to be conceived as a kind of antidote to the death of Lovers' lead, Ana). But this is a more intimate film than Lovers, which had a cooler aesthetic and more epic tale. Sex And Lucia is unlikely to leave any viewer cold.

Prod co: Sogecine.
Dist (Sp): Warner Sogefilms.
Int'l sales: Sogepaq.
Exec prods: Anna Cassina.
Prods: Fernando Bovaira, Enrique Lopez Lavigne.
Scr: Julio Medem.
DoP: Kiko de la Rica.
Prod des: Montse Sanz.
Ed: Ivan Aledo.
Music: Alberto Iglesias.
Main cast: Paz Vega, Tristan Ulloa, Najwa Nimri, Daniel Freire, Elena Anaya.