Ventura Pons again turns his eye on transgressive passion in "Idiot Love," an absorbing but dramatically uneven yarn of sexual obsession that extracts plenty of smart comedy from its darkness. Based on a novel by Lluis-Anton Baulenas, pic features a superb central duo and plenty of wit; but its wordy philosophy translates uneasily to the big screen.

Catalan helmer Ventura Pons again turns his eye on transgressive passion in “Idiot Love,” an absorbing but dramatically uneven yarn of sexual obsession that extracts plenty of smart comedy from its darkness. Based on a novel by Lluis-Anton Baulenas (also known for “Anita Takes a Chance”), pic features a superb central duo and plenty of wit; but its wordy philosophy, some of which seems to have been lifted wholesale from the source, translates uneasily to the bigscreen. Pic will please many Pons aficionados, but lack of mainstream appeal is unlikely to open up any new markets.

Thirtysomething teacher Pere Lluc (Santi Millan), who’s lonely, emotionally dissatisfied and willfully eccentric, is psychologically battered by the death of his Argentinean friend, Nicco (Gonzalo Cunill). Out drunk one night, he collides with a ladder on which Sandra (Cayetana Guillen-Cuervo) is standing, putting up banners for a company she runs with her husband.

Initially simply hanging around and watching Sandra as she does her work, Lluc visits her office claiming he wants to do business with her. The development of his obsession with Sandra is credibly drawn. He follows her to her house, taking photos of her from her garden as she stands at the window, becoming ever more daring in his voyeurism. The scene when Sandra finally discovers Lluc is a brilliantly staged combination of terror and comedy.

From then on, the abjectly masochistic Lluc becomes Sandra’s plaything. Script is careful to make this unlikely role-reversal plausible, with Sandra herself turned on by the idea of being an object of desire. Before long, Lluc is pleasuring her in public places — prelude to a remarkable sequence which has them copulating in various positions and locations.

Pic loses its edge after the relationship has reached its consummation, with a new focus on the relatively conventional affair between Lluc’s workmates, Jordina (Merce Pons) and Alex (Marc Cartes). The latter’s pseudo-philosophical ruminations on love are especially tiresome, and point up the fact the pic is strongest when purely visual. This is also true of Lluc’s insistent voiceover, a lengthy, self-justifying riff on human idiocy that rapidly loses its charm.

Ultimately, pic says, love is an animalistic thing, more about coupling than conversation.

The lanky, blank-faced Millan is a thesp with a TV background who shows heavyweight potential, dexterously turning self-confessed psychopath Lluc into a strangely appealing nihilist. The reliable Guillen-Cuervo is first class as the sassy, sexually confident Sandra, the other half of this intense, us-against-the-world relationship. Lensing is often low-lit and hand-held, in perfect accord with the bristling, edgy mood, but the jazz-inflected score too often strikes a false note. Humor is likewise not always well-judged.

Film is sexually explicit, occasionally shockingly so.

Idiot Love

Spain

Production

A Manga Films release (in Spain) of an Els Films de la Rambla/Grandalla Cinematografica, production in association with TVE, Canal Plus, TVC. (International sales: Manga Films, Madrid). Produced, directed, written by Ventura Pons, based on the novel by Lluis-Anton Baulenas.

Crew

Camera (color), Mario Montero; editor, Pere Abadal; music, Carles Cases; art director, Bel.lo Torras; sound (Dolby Digital), Boris Zapata. Reviewed at Cine Palafox, Madrid, Feb. 10, 2005. (Also in Berlin Film Festival, Panorama.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Santi Millan, Cayetana Guillen-Cuervo, Merce Pons, Marc Cartes, Gonzalo Cunill. (Catalan dialogue)

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