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The Ages Of Lulu
cast: Francesca Neri, Oscar Ladoire, Maria Barranco, Fernando Guillen Cuervo, and Rosana Pastor

director: Bigas Luna

95 minutes (18) 1990
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Sorry to disappoint you but this is nothing to do with the KLF, you're getting the film title confused with Ancients Of Mumu. Rather than a seminal 1990s' dance track, The Ages Of Lulu (aka: Las Edades de Lulu) is the first film by esteemed Spanish director and visual artist Bigas Luna. Based on a novel by Almudena Grandes, the film recounts a woman's sexual history. Starting almost with the moment of birth, the film shows us Lulu (Francesca Neri) losing her virginity to her brother's much older best friend Pablo (Oscar Ladoire). It is clear from the start that they are obsessed with one another and, once Pablo has returned to Spain after some years in America, the couple get married and soon start experimenting with different sexual practices and ideas. A nighttime cruise of the area where the transvestites hang out sees them befriend Ely who ends up watching the couple have sex.

However, before long, this experimentation gets out of hand and Pablo conspires to trick Lulu into having sex with her brother. Understandably, Lulu leaves Pablo, taking their daughter with her but before long she feels those sexual yearnings again. This time, Lulu decides to pick up rent boys and join them for a bisexual four-way orgy. Unfortunately, as any politician will tell you, rent boys cost money and Lulu's desire for kinky sex outstrips her means and she winds up getting involved in the underground fetish scene. This turns out to be a very bad idea, as Ely informs Pablo, as the man in charge of the club is a thug who has been to prison a number of times. Refusing to listen to her friend or her estranged husband, Lulu arrives at the club and before long finds herself tied up and fisted. Desperate to save her, Ely tries to break into the club but ends up fighting with one of the rent boys and gets impaled on a handy piece of metal sticking out of the wall. Horrified by the depths to which she has sunk, the death of her friend and her loss of control over her own sexual appetite, Lulu reconciles with the man who tricked her into committing incest.

It is easy to work out that Bigas Luna has a background in design, as, from beginning to end, the film looks incredibly sumptuous. Though never all that explicit, the frequent sex scenes nicely convey the heat and passion as well as their loss of control during sex. Indeed, on the basis of this film's looks alone it is easy to see how it launched Luna's career. However, once you look beyond the film's appearance, you find a film that not only is not nearly as transgressive as it seems to think it is, but also quite a misogynistic subtext.

From the very beginning of the film, it is clear that Pablo holds all the power in his relationship with Lulu. Whether it's convincing her to go down on him in his car, shaving her pubic hair at the end of their first date or engineering an act of incest, Pablo is in the driving seat. Indeed, Lulu is written as little more than a sex drive on legs. We do not know whether she works, we do not know what her hobbies are and we do not know very much about her personality other than the fact that she loves Pablo and really loves sex. This poor characterisation makes the film's claims to be all about a woman's sexual development seem somewhat questionable as at no point is there any insight into why Lulu has the desires she has or what her thought processes might be and, as she has no life beyond that of being Pablo's sex slave, we never see her sexual desires in the context of a proper life as we did with the sexual desire to self-harm in Secretary or In My Skin. This film lacks psychological depth because its main character and focus lacks any psychology whatsoever. However, if this were not unpleasant enough, the film's ending is even worse.

Once Lulu becomes estranged from Pablo, she starts dabbling in group-sex until she winds up in a situation where she has no control and is subject to sexual practices that she really does not want to partake in. This clearly suggests that once free of her husband's 'guiding hand', Lulu is so sexually incontinent that she is unable to keep herself safe. So, despite having left her husband because he forced her to do something uncomfortable, Lulu's first reaction after losing control of a sexual act is to fly to her husband's arms not only suggesting that, as a woman, she needs a man's guidance but also that being tricked into having sex with your brother is somehow much healthier and safer than being tricked into getting fist-fucked by a male prostitute. Clearly, if this film draws any conclusions about female sexuality it is that, without a man, little girls are prone to getting themselves into all kinds of silly situations! Bless their little empty heads. Awww...

The Ages Of Lulu is only transgressive in so far as it dares to show a number of unorthodox sexual practices. For all its visual daring, the film's values and subtext are not so much old fashioned as downright Neanderthal. Any claims that the film might have had to artistic substance are easily dismissed because of the poor characterisation and the absurdly over the top ending in which Ely ineffectually sacrifices herself for Lulu despite Lulu not really being in any danger beyond the borderline rape that she has to live through anyway.

Proceedings are not helped by the performances. Neri looks the part (even though early scenes see her adorned with such a wig so hideous that I thought she might well be a man in drag) as does Ladoire, but the dialogue is so lacking and the emotional arcs the characters are put through so simplistic that they never have anything of substance to work with.

This film was last released on DVD a few years ago and it boasted not only some documentaries about the film's run in with the BBFC but also a number of essays and commentaries by the director and a few other people. My review copy, despite not obviously being different to the retail version, had no extras at all. Seeing as the last release was also by Tartan I am not sure why these extras have been left off as they might well have provided some substance to a film desperately in need of it.

Lightweight and pretentious softcore porn with little to say about human sexuality and nothing of interest at all to say about alternative sexuality, The Ages Of Lulu is the product of a deeply adolescent creative partnership that loves the idea of transgressing boundaries and shocking people but, in truth, has nothing of any interest to say. Steer clear.
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