'Elisa and Marcela': Berlin Review

By Lee, Marshall | Screen International, February 14, 2019 | Go to article overview

'Elisa and Marcela': Berlin Review


Lee, Marshall, Screen International


Isabel Coixet’s Netflix drama is a relentlessly tasteful affair

Dir/scr: Isabel Coixet. Spain. 2019. 118 mins

The story of what was arguably Spain’s first gay marriage is turned into a relentlessly pretty melodrama in Isabel Coixet’s latest feature. Shot in black and white, the overlong drama could conceivably pass for edgy with the mass audience it will possibly attract when it airs worldwide on Netflix later this year, due to some gauzily tasteful lesbian sex scenes, one of which bizarrely involves an octopus.

Coixet misses no opportunity to make forbidden love look as classy as a perfume ad

But deep down this is a conventional and predictably plotted period drama about a clash between bodice-ripping passion and social mores. The most emotionally authentic part of the film, by far, are the wedding snapshots that run with the end credits, depicting unions between women that have taken place since Spain legalised homosexual marriage in 2005.

There’s no denying that Elisa And Marcela is easy on the eye, just like its eponymous heroines. DoP Jennifer Cox brings her experience in commercials and music videos to bear on the painterly framings and shallow-focus, skin-caressing textures of a film that, with the help of the costume and production design departments, misses no opportunity to make forbidden love look as classy as a perfume ad.

After a brief flash-forward prologue, the story begins in 1898 in a girls’ college run by nuns in La Coruña, where new girl Marcela (Greta Fernandez) is adopted by older student Elisa (Natalia de Molina). The attraction between the two is clear from the start, but so are the suspicions of the adults that surround the two girls – particularly Marcela’s stern, authoritarian father.

There’s an obvious social imbalance between the dark-haired, initially more submissive Marcela and her fairer, more privileged friend, but the script isn’t particularly interested in teasing this out; neither does it delve much into the conditions of life in rural Galicia, where the two friends eventually find posts as primary school teachers in nearby villages. …

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