As far as I can remember, Bigas Luna films have always been on the twisted side – I have seen most of his work since his 1978 ‘Bilbao’. His 2001 drama however, “Son de Mar” [Eng. Title: Sound of the Sea] is one of his more poetic offerings, but twisted all the same. As ever, he shows no mercy towards his characters, and unapologetically depicts their flaws - warts and all.
This isn’t a breezy romance by any measure, even if it starts out as a beautiful idea - doesn’t every romance start that way anyway! Luna liberally borrows from Greek myths and makes it into his own. Like the male lead character Ulises, a literature teacher who takes up a post mid term at a school in a small seaside village, his passion for sailing, his sudden disappearance, and his equally sudden return after several years when assumed dead by everyone. The film isn’t easy to watch, even if the female lead character Martina keeps our interest. Leonor Watling as Martina is at her sensual best here – she plays the village belle, the only daughter of a local restaurateur, the one who falls for the charms of the teacher and his oft quoted verses from Virgil’s Aeneid. These lines are repeated so often that it beccomes a precursor and later a prerequisite for Martina, to be sufficiently aroused for the sex act.
I loved the first half hour of the film where Sr. Luna allocates enough time to allow the protagonists’ relationship to develop. Martina’s first spontaneous ‘date’ with Ulises in the caves by the sea would induce nostalgia for anyone who has been in love. I’ve edited several scenes and combined them into one, it works better for the sake of this review - me feels.
When Martina gets pregnant, Ulises proposes and they get married, even if her parents feel a better match for their daughter would have been Sierra, the real estate tycoon. This scene is during their honeymoon in Valencia.
Ulises disappears on a fishing trip, leaving his wrecked boat that he named after his wife. He’s presumed dead by all, and with a young child to care for, Martina agrees to marry the cash-rich Sierra. Five years pass, her son grows up thinking Sierra is his daddy – and by any measure Martina is living a contented life, when out of the blue a familiar voice calls her one day, quoting a familiar verse from the Aeneid. Confused, Martina is justifiably pensive performing her conjugal duties that night.
Martina follows the instructions given by the owner of the voice, and ends up at a hotel where a tearful Ulises awaits holding a tuna fish. When an angry Martina asks where the hell he’d been for the past five years, he reveals his affair with a woman in red dress he met at a party. He claims it’s all now over, and begs her to have him back. She succumbs to his verse again, and what’s more – to continue their ‘affair’ Martina puts him up in one of her husband’s empty block of flats – it’s been empty because it hadn’t received the necessary planning permission – and visits him every day after hubby leaves for work. But Sierra soon finds out about Ulises’ return and decides to finish them off when he realises his wife still loves him. The couple try to escape in Sierra’s yacht, named ‘Son de Mar’, but end up in the morgue after trying to escape from the sinking yacht. I must add I was never a great fan of Jordi Mollâ who plays Ulises, nor his bits that keep pouring out in the film ever so often - I simply bore him for the sake of the impending glimpse of a more alluring Leonor.