Vicente Aranda’s Lovers (Spain -1991) not to be confused with Louis Malle’s The Lovers (France-1958) is one of the most erotic and sexually charged motion pictures you will find anywhere. The potency of its sexuality is such that you can almost feel it coming off the screen. In these supposedly enlightened times there are any number of films that boast sexual frankness but very few that can be said to be truly erotic. This is one of them.
The story is based on a real event that took place in Spain in the late 1940s. Originally the film was scheduled to be made as part of a TV series called Traces of Crime. But when the series got cancelled Aranda decided to set it in the 1950s and make a theatrical feature out of it. The story concerns a young man (Paco) who has just completed his military service. He is romantically involved with the very catholic, very moral Trini who works as a maid for a retired officer and his wife. She plans to marry Paco and have a normal life like everyone that she knows. Into this comes the landlady (Louisa) of the place where Paco rooms. She is mid to late 30s, still in her prime and exudes a sexual appetite with every move she makes and everything she says. She quickly seduces the young Paco and opens erotic doors into which he eagerly enters. Trini senses this and attempts to compete but is wholly inadequate. The landlady is too knowledgeable, too experienced and too predatory. She might also be criminal as well. That role is played by Victoria Abril, Spain’s reigning sexpot at the time. An actress who described herself as “80% organic and 20% cerebral”. She came to screen prominence playing sexually uninhibited characters in films by Aranda who discovered her at age 18 when he cast her as a transsexual in his 1977 film Cambio de sexo (The Sex Changers). Her fully committed performances often surprised and shocked the bourgeoisie of Spain but Abril didn’t care. She pushed the limits of respectability with each succeeding film she appeared in. In Amantes she is the sexual center of the film and charges it with her own erotic fire. But she’s not alone for Mirabel Verdu (later to shine so brightly in Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)brings her own sexual fire to the picture as well. Amantes is a love story, a sex story, a crime story and a real life tragedy all rolled into one.
Vicente Aranda was 66 when he made this film and it became his biggest international success winning several awards for himself and Victoria Abril. But in the US it hardly got much of a release. And today it can only be found on used VHS tapes. No DVD had been struck from it thus far. Aranda’s career has advanced since that time with several high budgeted films like Mad Love (2001) and Carmen (2003). Prior to Amantes he was mostly known as a director of erotic horror films like The Exquisite Cadaver (1969). But even in those days the underlying theme that seemed to travel from film to film has to do with the cruelty and uncontrollable nature of sexual passion. With Amantes that theme is front and center in its boldest and most dramatically potent context. The film is beautifully photographed, very well acted and handsomely directed right down to its mournful ending. Amantes is a forgotten film that should be given a second chance.