Wicked Summer Romances

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Boy meets girl, boy loses...oh, boring. Whatever postmodernism means, yesteryear's romantic conventions are not included in the definition. Actually, of course, they still make old-fashioned romances for a gushing public — love ya, Julia and Meg. But for those who want something kickier — even kinkier — and don't mind the occasional subtitle, here are three films that cater to slightly more perverse or, anyway, more darkly romantic tastes.

Sex And Lucia has a nice twist: girl stalks boy. Alternatively, you can see it as the story of a girl who, contrary to cliche, gets ruined by a book. The tome is by a handsome writer, Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa); his fan, Lucia (the divine Paz Vega), follows him around, comes on to him in a bar and then goes home with him for some of the hottest, nakedest sex you have seen since your last European "art" film. (For the past couple of years, European movies have been raising — or lowering — the bar in this matter, without much comment by the American critics or public.)

Lorenzo, however, learns he has a secret — a previously unknown love child — and, being a hip novelist, is tempted both by self-destruction and by indeterminate narrative. These traits are shared by Spanish writer-director Julio Medem, and you can read his movie tragically or happily. But these people are fools for heedless love and, perhaps, needless complication, and you can't help responding to the heat of their passion.

Read My Lips, being French, is wryer and dryer. A mousy, overworked executive secretary (Emmanuelle Devos) is given permission to hire a trainee-assistant. She chooses a newly paroled con (Vincent Cassel), a hunky lunk, but observant enough to divine her well-kept secret, which is that she is virtually deaf. She covers this defect by being an expert lip-reader. Now, this is a skill a bad guy can use. Soon she's perched on a rooftop, peering through binoculars, learning the secrets of a criminal gang whose ill-gotten gains he plans to heist. The comedic first part of Jacques Audiard's film doesn't achieve a seamless connection with its melodramatic second half, but you can't deny the originality of his conceit or the tart cynicism of its development.

Tadpole is American and therefore always looking nervously over its shoulder as it revisits that dullest of sexual cliches: the preppy (Aaron Stanford) lusting after an older woman, in this case his stepmom (Sigourney Weaver). He doesn't get her but does land her best friend, a chiropractor played by Bebe Neuwirth, in whom all this movie's comic energy is delightfully concentrated. Shot in a dull digital process by director Gary Winick, this is, alas, one weary ride--77 minutes that sometimes feel like that many hours.