A veteran explorer of life at emotional extremes, writer-director Vicente Aranda is back in familiar territory with “Love Songs in Lolita’s Club,” a drama that manages to be both daring and dreary. Under-achieved adaptation of a novel by Juan Marse (whose works Aranda has mined regularly) loses the original’s nuances, leaving behind an over-schematic, poorly-scripted yarn that takes nearly two hours to reveal that men are either violent or idiots. “Love Songs” is unlikely to thrill the hearts of anyone other than Aranda devotees. Local B.O. since Nov. 30 release has been slow.
Raul (Eduardo Noriega) is an embittered cop who is fired after almost killing the son of a mafia mobster; he is also a terrorist target. He heads back home to northern Spain, where his father Jose (Hector Colome) tells him that Raul’s mentally challenged twin brother Valentin (also Noriega) does odd jobs in the brothel of the title and has fallen for junkie hooker Milena (Flora Martinez).
The only redeeming feature of the otherwise repugnant Raul is that he loves his bro. He sets off to Lolita’s to save Valentin from Milena, but causes only misery — and eventually tragedy — particularly when he falls for Milena himself.
Noriega turns in an admirable but dramatically doomed perf in twin roles, breathing life into neither. Having the same thesp in both roles probably worked fine during script development, but dramatically it’s a dodo.
Raul’s reasons for hating life so deeply — which might have given his character some depth — are never revealed, and things collapse into psychological incoherence when he decides to have sex with Milena in front of his brother.
Aranda is famed for his head-on approach to matters sexual, and flesh fanciers will not be disappointed here. Lensing is often straight-up voyeuristic as it lingers over the brothel’s under-age employees.
A couple of worthy socio-critical swipes are included, particularly at the human trafficking that keeps Spanish brothels full. There are also the makings of a decent thriller in the fact that Raul’s a hunted man. But both these strands are lost in the script’s weary musings about the inability of men to love well.
Score makes use of ’70s-sounding Spanish pop.