(1991)4Josh RalskeLovers is a sumptuously made romantic melodrama from Spanish director Vicente Aranda. The rich, warm images of brilliant cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine (who also shot Pedro Almodóvar's visually vibrant Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and John Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs) and the darkly sweeping score by José Nieto give the film a classic feel. Lovers could almost be a product of the time it depicts (1950s), but for its frank eroticism. In its brilliantly conceived sex scenes, Aranda captures the beauty of his lead actors, Jorge Sanz and the great Victoria Abril, and compellingly documents their sexual obsession. Abril deserves special mention for her performance. From her first moment on the screen, she radiates throaty sensuousness and dark mystery. Luisa is introduced with a mouthful of candy, and draped with Christmas tinsel, almost as though she were a gift to the sexually frustrated Paco (Sanz). Aranda thus sets up his central conflict with precision and power. Paco's languorous approach to his relationships with Luisa and Trini (Maribel Verdú) is lamentable, but it's also very believable. After the virginal Trini offers herself up to Paco, her physical behavior with him (caressing his naked flank with her mouth, moving up to his ear) echoes Luisa's, but it's clear to the audience how Luisa maintains the sexual power over him. Without excusing these characters' faults, Aranda manages to subtly suggest the societal forces (fascist repression, religion, sexism, class differences) that limit their options, and skew their view of the world. Lovers is a masterful and rewarding work from a talented filmmaker whose ouvre is sadly underseen in the U.S.