There is this idea in Western culture of both linearity and dualism (bear with me); events happen and then recede forever and ever into a terminally retreating past while their meanings gain traction amidst the pendulum swings between opposites: good/bad, light/dark, love/hate, porn/not porn.

Best known in the US for his 2002 film, “Sex and Lucia,” writer and director Julio Medem is known for making movies that subvert such tidiness. These cinematic interpolations can illicit in its viewers confusion-angst as they search for the soft spot of understanding. In his latest film venture, “Room in Rome,” Medem corals the retreating and shifting to a space no bigger than a room, a bedroom.

What can be looked at as a sugar-coating helping along the medicine, “Room in Rome” has a lot of sex in it. What’s more, it’s sex between two women: Alba and Natasha. One of the classic charges made against porn films is the lack of narrative, that If only there were more of a storyline and better music, I’d LOVE porn. Well, you’re in luck! Not only is the score breathtaking, you can add – along with “Mulholland Drive” – “Room in Rome” into your library of non-porn movies having well-crafted lesbian sex scenes. But unlike David Lynch, there seems to be more of a point to Medem’s storytelling.

By virtue of being both Spanish and Basque, Medem’s identity almost necessitates his professional identity as filmmaker to address the complexity of nationalism within a nationless state. Said in another way, there is a collision of selfhood suffered by the Basques as well as the country of Spain, all bound within the flesh of Julio Medem.

Medem has broached such subject matter in previous movie-making. But what about “Room in Rome”? Was he taking a very naughty break from it all? Or did he create for us an allegory and commentary delivered through the one-night stand antics of two surreptitious lovers both hidden away and freed up because of the confines of a room, a room watched by no one and yet overhead frescos depicting Cupid, the Greeks, and the Medici Court loom for not just Alba and Natasha but perhaps the most important character, the audience.

In a scene that can be argued to be the most provocative, the long and lean Natasha picks up little Alba after Alba starts climbing on her. The POV of the camera is from behind Natasha, allowing us a glimpse and opportunity to locate the posture in relation to the more heterosexual and iconic positions of great, mad, furious sex when the man picks up the woman and enabled by his strength, has sex standing up.

What makes this scene iconoclastic is that Alba moves upward and in doing so, co-opts the imagine for her own as she straddles and makes her way on top of Natasha’s shoulders; the pelvis is no longer the focus. While pausing long enough to consummate the scene, Alba looks up overhead to meet the gaze of Cupid and his arrow. She then directs Natasha’s gaze to that same place of connection.

Medem does this over and over, playing around with the rendered symbols of history and fantasy along with actual magical realism later on in the film. Over and over, I fought the simplicity and seemingly pedestrian direction the film seemed to be taking. Yes, it was sweet that a winged cherub looked downward from the painted heavens. Yes, it is very Rome to have frescos in a hotel room. Yes, yes, yes, I went on, a much less enjoyable cerebral affirmation mimicking the romping yes’s on-screen. But could there be more?

“Room in Rome” is a remake of the film, “In the Bed.” If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. In a wonderful article discussing the in’s and out’s of “In the Bed,” writer and critic Michael Guillen covers both flattering and unflattering reviews and then gives his own of such a film. I was grateful for such a well-written piece, but it made me wonder why Medem would attempt to re-create a movie that didn’t fare so well.

Ecstasy does not come easy. Great orgasms, for instance, are rare to new lovers. You have to work for it. You have to want it. “Room in Rome” follows the same model. To ignore the identity of Medem and his corpus of work is to commit the sin of lazy lover. The experience, while enjoyable, is but a pale shade of what is possible. And then you’ll be alone and clueless as to why.

The images Medem evokes are as beautiful as anything you can imagine. Alba and Natasha shine like deities on the screen. And if you know of anything of the Greeks, one of their beliefs was that the heavens had within them prefect representations of everything that existed in imperfection on earth. Their depictions on the ceiling of this Roman hotel room remind us of this history.

Often this same idea plays itself out on screen. Movie stars are always more beautiful than what reality dolls out for us mere mortals. The motives and precipitate actions affect similar grandeur. Of course, you need to see the film for yourself to determine just how far the ideas go as you calibrate just how you choose to view the film, and then, how haunted you’ll be by such imagery.

Room in Rome
Showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center
Through Thursday, November 18th
Tickets: $10

Part of the Festival of New Spanish Cinema
November 5th – 20th, 2010

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