This unsettling psychosexual odyssey marks the bridge between Catalonian auteur Bigas Luna’s early oddball horror movies - Anguish (1986) and Reborn (1981) - and his later satirical sex comedies. Teenage Lulu (Francesca Neri) has her first sexual experience with the older, pretentious Pablo (Óscar Ladoire). “Remember… sex and love have nothing to do with each other”, he warns her. Years pass and the couple’s erotic experimentation leads to their friendship with good-hearted transvestite Ely (actress Maria Barranco with uh, latex enhancement…), plus a happy marriage and a young daughter. But Pablo pushes things too far by involving Lulu in a threesome with her own brother. Lulu sets out on her own, indulging in a foursome with gay hustlers, before plunging into darker waters.
Your response to Luna’s film depends on whether you believe sexual longing is a serious subject for art, or just fodder for the dirty mac brigade. Years of Joe Eszterhas-penned humpathons might suggest otherwise, but Luna’s aspirations lie beyond those of a mere skin flick. Made up almost entirely of sex scenes, Luna tackles every aspect of sex: adolescent longing, exploration, exploitation, perversion, fantasies and good old fashioned romance. “Sex stumbled into my life as an outlet”, observes Lulu. It is not known whether Luna based his heroine on the iconic Louise Brooks character from Pandora’s Box (1929), whose sexuality inflames and destroys. However, Francesca Neri’s fantastic performance - transforming from naïve teen to jaded hedonist - complements Luna’s humane, character driven approach. Meanwhile, Maria Barranco avoids caricature to imbue Ely with kindness and dignity.
Luna goes as far as possible and skirts disturbingly close to hardcore. After a while the relentless parade of full-frontal nudity and bare-bottomed humping starts to annoy. However, the sudden descent into violent, S&M horror disturbs on both a visceral and emotional level (watch out for a young Javier Bardem as a murderous hustler. He later reunited with Francesca Neri for Pedro Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (1997), though Luna unfortunately glosses over Ely’s tragic self-sacrifice. The conclusion, that sex needs love to endure rather than vice versa, might sound conservative but only the truly jaded would fail to acknowledge it rings true. So, is it art or 9½ Weeks (1986) style, softcore nonsense? Ultimately, though less endearing than Luna’s sex satires, The Ages of Lulu is a bold, provocative take on a subject few filmmakers can manage without looking ridiculous, although it is a little wearying.