The Ages of Lulu (1990)

Directed by
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-06-23

Young Lulu finds herself becoming sexually curious, and arranges an opportunity for her elder brother's handsome friend Pablo to take advantage of that. Pablo then goes to the USA leaving Lulu pining, but when he returns to Spain to give a lecture they hook up again and somehow end up married. Pablo encourages Lulu to explore sex outside her comfort zones, which leads to a line being crossed.

I bought the Spanish DVD of THE AGES OF LULU many years ago, having seen some of Bigas Luna's films and finding him to be an interesting director. I was shocked how explicit it is - probably the most pornographic film I've seen that isn't actually pornography. I could see why it hadn't been released in the UK, typically more prudish than the continent.

The film was eventually released in the UK as well, but naturally it was cut... though oddly not the explicit sex, AFAIK an increasingly chilled BBFC let all that pass, but a shot from the opening credits showing an infant Lulu having talcum powder applied to her private parts, a shot which to any sane mind is entirely non-sexual, was apparently intolerable to British censors.

Compared to the many things in the film that are readily objectionable, excising this innocuous moment of Lulu's life is patently absurd. It is of course the first Age of Lulu - once the credits are over we meet her again at age 15, then catch up every few years for a decade or two to follow the course of her life in a Spain that is coming out of a long period of fascist oppression, and exploring newly available freedoms.

At the time I think that this was viewed as a feminist story of female sexual liberation, but looking back from 2022 it seems... not that. The major events of the story all involve violations of consent to some degree - Pablo dominates her on their first encounter and later proposes marriage after basically anally raping her. The incident that leads to their divorce involves a blindfold and a third party whose presence she was not asked about, and the film's climax involves Lulu attending a fetish party where she is forcibly gagged and bound and used as a prop for the pleasure of perverts.

The film is bold in its presentation of sexual variance, with prominent gay and trans characters, but its unhealthy relationship with consent is definitely problematic, and the final denouement seems depressingly like Lulu getting her comeuppance for wanting sexual autonomy.

The film is based on a book by a female author, apparently based on her own experiences coming of age at that particular time and place, so I suppose it's her right to have them acknowledged. I don't think many people would argue that it presents an ideal model for sexuality in the modern era though.