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Writer-director Isabel Coixet has taken a real-life love story from 20th-century LGBT Spanish history and turned it into something bafflingly passionless, joyless and excessively tasteful, an anti-alchemy assisted by stately monochrome photography that makes every frame look like a postcard from an art shop.
Coixet also has a supercilious habit of concluding scenes on an “iris out” transition, a dwindling circular window on one character, as in a silent movie – an apparently playful touch out of sorts with the heavy-footed seriousness of what has gone before. And the film is lumbered with two very torpid and undynamic performances.
Elisa Sánchez Loriga (played by Natalia De Molina) and Marcela Graciela Ibeas (Greta Fernandez) were two women who got married in 1901 in Spain, with Elisa pretending to be a man. When the imposture was exposed, there was scandal and salacious press outrage; the couple fled to Portugal planning to emigrate to South America, though the wedding was never actually annulled.
There are suggestions that Marcela may have had a child, something that Coixet interestingly builds into her drama: a heterosexual encounter planned to create a pregnancy that would (she hoped) allay the suspicions of the baying witch-hunt mob, demanding to know if her “husband” is actually a woman. But it leads only to heartache and a terrible dilemma.
Coixet seems oppressively concerned to create something tragic and yet inspirational, a love story that demonstrates the mean-mindedness of the time but also the couple’s courage and defiance. It leads to a tonal paralysis. Coixet stays away from any hints of humour and subversive energy that might have made the story genuinely defiant. The performances of De Molina and Fernandez are self-conscious and subdued and the sex scenes between them are created in line with a kind of modern Hays code of softcore erotica that is at all times concerned not to offend.
The film is idealistically conceived in setting out to retell a story that had been erased from the history of sexuality. The energy and flair was, however, missing.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Elisa y Marcela review – same-sex marriage drained of passion | Berlin film festival 2019