- BERLINALE 2020: With sensitivity, Pilar Palomero’s first work recreates the repressive atmosphere which far too many Spanish girls grew up within towards the end of the 20th century
The Spanish media are calling Schoolgirls [+see also:
film profile] this year’s Verano 1993 [+see also:
interview: Carla Simón
film profile]. It goes without saying that this commendable film from the Zaragoza-born director Pilar Palomero does share certain similarities with that of Carla Simón. Aside from the fact they both fall under the same production company and their films have both been presented in different editions of the Berlinale, they’re also both first works by promising female directors. Furthermore, both feature films depict the adolescent/infantile world, and the story more or less unfolds within the same period: Spain in the nineteen-nineties, the boom years brought about by the Olympics in Barcelona and the Universal Exposition of Seville. But this is only the background (the advent of modernity) which the characters see and hear via TV. What the film actually focuses on are the intimacies of adolescence, family conflict and the social atmospheres and emotions of an era which continued to be overrun by narrow-minded thinking, inherited from the dark years of Francoism.
For those more familiar with showy and ultra-fast commercial cinema, Schoolgirls might prove a disappointing watch: the action is minimal, depicting the characters’ day-to-day activities, such as doing homework, painting their lips for the first time or playing during breaktime. But there’s a subtext behind the description of this routine; a background and an intent which reveal a contradictory country which has continued to teach its future women to accept acquired machismo, sexual repression and all-important conformism.
Celia, the film’s protagonist (the magnificent acting revelation Andrea Fandos), is the daughter of a single mother (played by Natalia de Molina). She’s growing up and at the very moment her body begins to change, doubts of every kind start to alter her thinking. She’s no longer comfortable with the lies and silences her mother metes out every time she asks questions, about her origins, for example. The times are changing too, even if her environment – especially the convent school where she’s studying – seems to be doing everything possible to stave off the inevitable. But a new friend will breathe fresh air into her personal prison.
Schoolgirls opens with a magnificent scene, and its closing shot contrasts perfectly with the first. Between the two, we accompany this young woman in her insomnia, doubts and anxieties, with the camera ever glued to Celia’s gaze. And it won’t be hard for those who grew up in the eighties and nineties to recognise themselves or their friends, sisters or neighbours in Schoolgirls’ various scenes.
As we watch the film, titles such as Carlos Saura’s legendary film Cría cuervos or the recent Ojos Negros [+see also:
interview: Marta Lallana, Ivet Castelo
film profile], by the duo Marta Lallana and Ivet Castelo, spring to mind; works which display the same freshness, talent and authenticity as Palomero’s offering. But above all, this director’s first full-length film underscores the crucial point that, much like the course taken by her central character, it has only been through individual rebellion that a generation of women have been able to fully fulfil themselves, and that they are now in a position to question that time which is thankfully in the past.
(Translated from Spanish)
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