Review: Carmen & Lola
by Alfonso Rivera
- Arantxa Echevarría’s film oozes originality and authenticity, and strives to ensure that last remaining right: passionate love between Gypsy women
On the heels of the premiere of Jaime Rosales’ Petra [+see also:
interview: Jaime Rosales
film profile] in the Directors’ Fortnight a few days ago, another Spanish film named after a woman (or women, in this case) has been presented at the 71st Cannes Film Festival: Carmen & Lola [+see also:
interview: Arantxa Echevarría
film profile], the feature-length fiction debut by Bilbao-born director Arantxa Echevarría, who has previously helmed the short films Yo presidenta, El solista de la orquesta and The Last Bus, as well as the documentary Cuestión de pelotas, among others.
The path that Echevarría has trodden through the world of non-fiction film is clearly visible in Carmen & Lola, a story written by the director herself, which at times feels like a documentary: such is the authenticity it exudes when it comes to capturing the world of Gypsies, along with its traditions, gatherings and beliefs. To this effect, as she immerses the audience in an unfamiliar environment, Arantxa’s ever-respectful gaze meanders through flea markets, dwellings and neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Madrid with the immediacy and vivacity provided by a handheld camera, truthfully portraying this world without ever falling into the trap of merely depicting local customs and manners, nor presenting folkloric picture postcards, which can be ever so tempting when tackling a topic like the one addressed here.
Standing up for a social brand of cinema – reminiscent of Carlos Saura and his Fast, Fast – which is being made less often and with rapidly decreasing levels of sincerity in Spain, Echevarría flings open the final closet that needs airing out in the country by broaching the subject of lesbianism in the Gypsy community. This is a culture – with a strict and unwavering faith in God – that under no circumstances accepts homosexuality, let alone female homosexuality (which is considered an illness or something akin to a demonic possession), as according to its traditions, a woman must marry very young, have children and wait upon her man until death do they part. It’s basically an extreme form of machismo.
And so, with her feature debut, the director, who makes impeccable use of a cast of non-professional or inexperienced actors (where Moreno Borja and Rafaela León really stand out playing the parents of one of the girls, as does the very young Zaira Romero, who is only 16 years old, in the role of Lola – the first of the girls to take a dramatic step forward in the hopes of making a radical change to her life), focuses media attention on a subject that is kept firmly out of sight, but one that needs to be discussed openly in order to ensure that these women can live out their love to the fullest and finally manage to be happy without having to hide or run away. And Echevarría injects a great deal of empathy, sensitivity and valour into a fresh-feeling, vibrant, unbridled and touching film that, despite the dreadful things it portrays, is also inspiring, necessary and beautiful: just like the two lead girls who ooze the purity, innocence and intensity of one’s first love, regardless of sexual orientation.
(Translated from Spanish)
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