Friday, February 8, 2013


Bigas Luna, 1990
Starring: Francesca Neri, Oscar Ladoire, Maria Barranco, Fernando Guillen Cuervo

Based on Almudena Grandes's best-selling novel of the same name, Ages of Lulu concerns the sexual awakening and subsequent journey of a young Spanish woman, the titular Lulu. The film begins when she is a teenage school girl with a crush on her older brother's friend, Pablo. In one of my favorite scenes in the film, Pablo takes Lulu's virginity. Already from the beginning, she is never really involved in "vanilla" sex; Pablo involves her in a fetishistic pubic shaving scene knowing she has never had a prior sexual encounter. This is also probably around the time that viewers inexperienced with European erotica begin to get very uncomfortable -- or aroused.

In love with Pablo from the beginning, Lulu is distraught to learn that he has to go away for a few years to take up a teaching post. When he returns, she is still young, but much more sexually mature. They resume their relationship and marry. For a few years they are happy and have children. They continue to push the limits of their mutual comfort zones together and explore their mutual sexuality with things like anal sex and cruising for transvestites.

Things take a turn for the worse at a party when Lulu thinks her husband is attempting to have an affair, an element they have not yet introduced into their relationship. He attempts to smooth over the fight by involving her in an erotic encounter with another man. In a dark room, with Lulu tied up and blindfolded, Pablo brings in his best friend and Lulu's brother. Both men have sex with her at the same time and she doesn't discover until afterward that it was her brother, leaving her sickened and angry. (Honestly she gets over it pretty quickly.)

Their fights and frustrations continue and eventually Lulu takes the children and leaves a distraught Pablo. Now on her own, she devotes almost all of her time and money to sexual pursuits. She becomes interested in the underground gay sex scene and after tiring of videos, goes in search of a live experience. When she becomes addicted to these mostly-gay orgies, she starts to run out of money and seeks a new way to pay for the encounters: by involving herself in the underground sex performance scene. Unfortunately, things are far more dangerous than she anticipated.

The ending scene is truly traumatic and uncomfortable, similar to Gaspar NoĆ©'s Irreversible, though less gratuitous and more reliant on emotional subtlety than shock value. Bizarrely, the ending is not tragic, but I don't want to give everything away. I'm so used to moralistic erotic tales where the protagonist gets their unfortunate (and usually undeserved) just desserts for wandering down the path of sexual excess, such as Belle de Jour, but this doesn't happen to Lulu. She goes too far and gets burnt, but you never get the sense that director Bigas Luna is judging or punishing the character for her appetite. It is simply a journey of independence and self-exploration, and I think that's the real reason Ages of Lulu is one of my favorites.

Francesca Neri is charming and sweet as Lulu, always coming across with a certain amount of innocence and naivety, even with she is engaging in acts that would make Caligula blush. Ages of Lulu is relatively well filmed and though it can lag at points, well written. I can't personally say how it compares to the novel, though I am a little surprised that Ages of Lulu was Grandes's first novel and became an international best seller. But then Europe is a lot more sexually open-minded than the U.S.

This is definitely not a film for everyone and parts of it are pretty extreme. If you aren't used to watching erotica, I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point. For seasoned fans, especially anyone who enjoys more explicit subject matter, this film comes very highly recommended. As far as I can tell, Ages of Lulu is not available in a region one release. Surprise. There are several region two prints available and I own the region two Bigas Luna box set, which comes highly recommended.

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