Love, it is often said, is forever.
And while that much-quoted truism is taken as a given in director Xavier Villaverde’s film El Sexo de Los Angeles (translated as The Sex of the Angels on the official Mardi Gras program or slightly less literally as Angels of Sex on the trailer), what is not regarded as a gospel truth is the form that this everlasting love will take.
At the start of the movie, university students Bruno (Llorenç González) and Carla (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who have been together since they were 15 and remain deeply in love, are in a conventional relationship with very strong views on fidelity and the importance of forsaking all others to ensure the sanctity of the relationship is preserved.
So far so conventional, and at this juncture, neither party sees anything wrong with this arrangement.
After all, when you love someone that’s what you do right?
Indeed, Bruno when challenged at one point about whether he would consider straying from the conventions of monogamy, immediately rejects the notion, making it quite clear that if there are no limits on the relationship, and either party is free to sleep with whomever they like, then you cease to be a true partner and are “just another person”.
And then comes martial art instructor and talented breakdancer Rai (Alvaro Cervantes).
When he enters first Bruno’s and then Carla’s life, he turns all these well-honed, deeply-entrenched and rarely thought-out notions on their head so comprehensively that the couple is forced to re-assess, and quickly, what their relationship means to them and what they will or won’t do within its boundaries.
Rai, for his part, is a man who fears commitment and loves the theatre and spectacle of the chase – as his friend Maria (Julieta Morocco) observes knowingly at one point, he loses interest once the seduction is over – all of which he readily admits, is also shocked to discover that rather than wanting to run once things get too intimate for his liking (although run at one point he does till Bruno and Carla together race to retrieve him), that he wants to somehow, against all the odds, and all of society’s coupling norms, form an ongoing relationship with both of them.
Emotional confusion abounds on a grand scale, and while an element of farce begins to creep in at one point as Carla first kicks out Bruno when she discover his passionate affair with Rai then accepts him back then too falls into bed with Rai leading Bruno to push her away temporarily, it maintains for the most part a cold and steely eye on the upheaval these sort of events would cause to people who still subscribe to old-fashioned, and admittedly, still widely-held notions of love and fidelity.
In conversation after conversation, whether its between Carla and her mother Nuria (played by Lluïsa Castell, who remains with Carla’s philandering father partly because she fears loneliness but also because that’s what you do), Carla and her best friend Marta (Sonia Méndez) who struggles with finding a man who won’t cheat on her, or Carla and Bruno and Rai in various permutations, long-accepted notions of love and fidelity are brought up, played with, accepted, rejected and examined, almost for the first time, in excruciating detail as everyone struggles to find a way forward that they can live with.
It is every bit as emotionally fraught and tense as you would expect it to be (with a few almost throwaway comic moments courtesy of Bruno and Carla’s mutual friend and colleague Dani played by Marc Pociello), and all three of the main actors, plus the supporting cast, give finely tuned performances that tell a convincing tale of people at the forefront of social and sexual change, caught unawares by forces beyond their experience and almost at some points, beyond their control.
While the ending does dip its toes somewhat unsuccessfully into the waters of melodramatic Hollywood-esque race-to-get-to-your-one-true-love-before-they-leave-your-life-forever rom-com territory, you forgive this because the rest of the movie is such an expertly told, perfectly emotionally-calibrated and wonderfully acted story of what happens when life refuses to subscribe to accepted norms.
In our modern era when so many long-cherished and little-examined notions of love, fidelity and sexuality are being challenged across a wide variety of fronts, The Sex of the Angels is a timely reminder that we must be prepared to question everything or like Carla, Bruno and Rai, risk losing it all.