Arantxa Echevarría’s first solo fiction feature “Carmen & Lola” is the story of a romantic relationship between two gypsy teenage girls who are tread upon by society for both their heritage and sexual orientation. Echevarría previously co-directed on the 2017 thriller “7 from Etheria,” and has made a number of shorts such as “De noche y de pronto,” nominated for a Spanish Academy Goya in 2012.
Produced by Echevarría and Pilar Sánchez Díaz at TVTEC Servicios Audiovisuales, “Carmen & Lola” includes a cast of all but one non-professional gypsy actors. Latido Films, the prominent upscale Spanish sales agency with an eye for new talent, including new Spanish-language women auteurs, handles international sales.
Can you discuss real-world the difficulties that people like the characters in your film face in Spain today?
Being a lesbian and a gypsy means being different and, at the same time, a minority. It’s a lethal pairing. Being a woman is also a struggle. Being a woman and gypsy means you are entrenched in a culture of centuries of patriarchy and chauvinism. Being a woman, gypsy, and a lesbian is a lethal combination. Just being a woman isn’t easy. In this “great” society that we live in, women still only make up 2% of CEO’s of multinational corporations, and on average we earn 25% less than men in similar positions.
In Spain, the #MeToo campaign has taken root more strongly than in other countries, why do you think that is?
Because we need it. In Spain we have always been a bit lacking when it comes to feminist solidarity movements, and this one is especially important because it includes men. What we do alone as women will never be enough. We can start the motor, but we need men to be on board. I believe that 90% of men can consider themselves feminists. The problem is the other 10% are those in key positions of power— CEOs, major producers and distributors.
You come from documentaries, and it’s clear that you have drawn upon this to give the film a unique personality…
I wanted to show what is seen and what is not. Documentaries have helped me do this, to present a space that communicates more about a character than the characters do themselves. Mine is a curious point of view, like when you talk to someone and your eyes wander to their mouth, to their body. For me film is the same way. This is how I showed Lola’s room, in which there are no books, but there are paintings. Carmen’s house is entirely pastel shades. Or, for example, when they go swimming in a pool without water— a place where what isn’t there is of particular importance.
In the first part, the camera follows the characters with its movement. But ,in the second, when the conflict escalates, the camera is much more static, taking a more analytical approach towards the characters.
The entire cast— except for one actress— are gypsies, and not professional actors. What was it like working with them, and what was their experience acting while seeing their lives and traditions represented?
Well, many gypsy women have discredited me. They ask me how dare I be the voice of an ethnicity I don’t belong to, or if I’m some kind of protective paya (non-gypsy). I guess they’ll watch the film with resentment and fear. They’re very defensive, and I understand that after certain deplorable series have been made.
One actor, following especially difficult scenes, broke down more than once. After playing the role he said to me “how awful,” and at the same time, “how embarrassing for this to happen in your family.” It was a curious mixture of feelings between sympathy and tradition. With others, it has had a truly cathartic effect. We did a thorough job of casting, in which the actors were able to execute the script, but also use their own expression. They always said that we were truly doing honest work.
What kind of films would you like to do in the future?
My vision is ever-curious. I feel as though everything can be seen and observed in order to be told. I have an incredible thirst for narrating everything that fascinates me. Being a woman, I feel that I have a different way (not better, just different) of seeing the world, of observing reality. I am a director and a woman, maybe not in that order. And that defines me. I feel morally obligated to give voice to those who do not have one. Film has become my loudspeaker for certain causes that I believe should be brought to light. I admire Claire Denis, Jacques Audiard and all those who have guts when it comes to directing.
What’s your next project?
I’m writing a new project that might be titled “Chinese.” The idea kicked off from a real situation. I found myself buying bread in a shop in a Chinese neighborhood. Suddenly, a Chinese girl of about twelve came running in dressed all in white for her first communion. From behind the counter a little Chinese girl peeked out at her, fascinated. The first girl was a princess, radiant and smiling. After a few moments, the shopkeeper spoke to the little princess in Chinese. The girl looked back at her, frightened, and clung to her father— a white man in a suit— asking him: “Daddy, what is that Chinese lady saying?” And I said to myself: “I have to make this a film!”
So it will focus on the uprooting of second generation immigrants in Spain?
Yes. I want to show how disconnected this Chinese girl feels, dressed for her First Communion. Her features don’t fit in with her world and betray her as adopted; or how Spanish a teenager of Chinese ethnicity feels, living in the suburbs of Madrid, with parents who barely speak the language she uses all day on Whatsapp.