Tag Archives: Julio Medem

126. THE RED SQUIRREL [LA ADRILLA ROJA] (1993)

“They are also cunning, humble and light, like flies. Liars, shy but strategic, sinuous, and very capable of weaving clever plots behind men’s backs.”–TV commentator describing red squirrels in a dream in The Red Squirrel

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Nancho Novo, Emma Suárez, Carmelo Gómez

PLOT: A despondent musician is working up the courage to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge when suddenly a motorcycle crashes through the railing next to him. Going down to the beach to investigate he finds the victim is a beautiful woman who has survived the fall with no lasting damage, but is suffering from amnesia. He convinces her that they are lovers and takes her to a campground to continue the charade; but does she have a secret past that may come back to haunt them both?

Still from The Red Squirrel [La Ardilla Roja] (1993)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Red Squirrel played out-of-competition in Cannes, but won the “Award of the Youth” (an award given by jurors who are 18-23 years old).
  • Stanley Kubrick was an admirer of the film and, according to rumor, recommended Medem to Stephen Spielberg to direct The Mask of Zorro; Medem rejected the opportunity.
  • The Red Squirrel did not find a theatrical distributor in North America, and might have remained nearly unknown if the arthouse successes of Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Sex and Lucia hadn’t sparked interest in Medem’s earlier movies. The film was released on VHS in the US, but although it was released in Europe it did not appear on Region 1 DVD until 2012.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We won’t reveal the precise moment we’ve selected as The Red Squirrel‘s indelible image, because we think it will hit you harder if it comes as a surprise. We will say that it takes place in a dream confrontation on a barren windswept plain, and point out that we love it because it’s representative of the way that Medem builds up an almost unbearable tension, then breaks it with the unexpected interjection of absurd comedy.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its tragically creepy protagonist seeking to recreate a woman who may not be what she seems into his idealized love, The Red Squirrel plays like a postmodern Spanish version of Vertigo, only with obscure portents of squirrelly doom and comically absurd dream sequences.


Brief clip from The Red Squirrel

COMMENTS: Obsession is always a promising starting place for a movie plot; so is mystery. If Continue reading 126. THE RED SQUIRREL [LA ADRILLA ROJA] (1993)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SEX AND LUCIA [LUCIA Y EL SEXO] (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Julio Medem

FEATURING: Paz Vega, Tristán Ulloa, Najwa Nimri

PLOT:  Lucia, a waitress, falls in love with Lorenzo, a young novelist with a secret in his past; their passionate love story is intertwined with dramatized scenes from Lorenzo’s novel, with it left to the viewer to decide what is “real” and what is “fiction.”

sex_and_lucia


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTSex and Lucia‘s fractured narrative is more confusing than weird.  It’s meta-narrative conceits call to mind Adaptation, another movie that ultimately felt too much like an intellectual exercise to be extremely weird. Sex and Lucia treats it’s fiction-within-a-fiction structure with more subtlety and ambiguity, though Charlie Kauffman’s screenplay exists on a satirical plane that in the end makes it the more centered and satisfying effort.

COMMENTS:  The best things about Sex and Lucia are sex (important enough to get its own paragraph!) and Lucia (Paz Vega, whose acting is as naked as her body). While counting its plusses, we should also mention the cinematography, done on a digital camera, with the scenes on the Mediterranean isle bleached like a seashell in the sun.  The story is another matter.  Many viewers find it frustrating that Medem riddles his script with narrative wormholes which shuttle the story back in time or to an alternate resolution, then demands the viewer assist in the construction by choosing what is part of the “real” story and what is in Lorenzo’s imagination. The bigger problem may be that none of the possibilities he offers have a tremendous emotional resonance.  The movie is arty and self-conscious throughout, with multiple obviously significant shots of the moon. Symbolism is pervasive and tends to make sense, but adds up to little in the way of genuine insight.  While these difficulties make Sex and Lucia less than it might have been, it’s still beautiful enough to be lightly intoxicating, like a Mediterranean vacation or a one-nighter with a beautiful woman.

The sex scenes, especially those between the gorgeous and unselfconscious Vega and Ulloa, are undoubtedly a major attraction.  The lovers’ exploration of their bodies and sexual tastes during their whirlwind courtship is erotic and tasteful; the scenes are arousing, but are also beautifully constructed to create a sense of true intimacy between the characters.  The sex is front-loaded; after the middle of the film, when a sordid and pornographic but equally erotic fantasy occurs, sex leaves Lucia and Lorenzo’s relationship, replaced by tragedy and arguments.  Medem refused to let the sexier parts of the film be cut for distribution, but the scenes of tumescent male nudity and fellatio are so brief that they are unnecessary and reek of gimmickry; it’s difficult to rationalize the director’s passionate defense of the artistic necessity of erections.  The film may be purchased in either a unrated cut or in an R-rated version; your enjoyment of the movie is unlikely to be affected by which version you choose (I can’t determine if there’s a difference in runtime between the two versions).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“At its best, Sex and Lucia works literally like a dream, like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away — the narrative is fractured and oblique, the meaning suppressed. It will infuriate a lot of moviegoers, perhaps especially those looking for a high class dirty movie.”–Phillip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (DVD)