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 source, translates uneasily to the big screen. 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 wilfully eccentric, is emotionally battered by the death of his Argentinean friend, Nicco (Gonzalo Cunill). While 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, Pere 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 and becoming ever more daring in his voyeurism. The scene when Sandra finally discovers Pere Lluc is a brilliantly-staged combination of terror and comedy.
From then on, the abjectly masochistic Pere Lluc becomes Sandra’s plaything. The script is careful to make this unlikely role-reversal totally plausible, Sandra herself turned on by the idea of being an obscure object of desire. Before long Pere Lluc is kissing and masturbating her in public places — preludes to a remarkable sequence which has them copulating 18 times 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 Pere Lluc’s workmates, Jordina (Merce Pons) and Alex (Marc Cartes). The latter’s pseudo-philosophical disquisitions on love are especially tiresome, and point up the fact that pic is strongest when it is purely visual. This is also true of Pere Lluc’s insistent voiceover, a lengthy, self-justifying riff on human idiocy in its various forms which 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 here, dexterously turning the self-confessed psychopath Pere Lluc into a strangely appealing nihilist, perversely reveling in his new double life. 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 fairly explicit sexually, with a couple of full frontals. One particularly graphic moment early on, in which Pere Lluc puts his penis on a plate, is shocking rather than comic.