×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Carmen and Lola’

Two young women come into conflict with the conservatism and patriarchalism of Madrid's Roma community when they fall in love.

Director:
Arantxa Echevarría
With:
Zaira Romero, Rosy Rodríguez, Moreno Borja, Rafaela Leon, Carolina Yuste. (Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 43 minutes

Perhaps it’s ultimately a good thing that the “coming out as gay in a repressive culture” subgenre has, by 2018, become familiar enough to have evolved its own clichés. It is however a bit unfortunate that Arantxa Echevarría’s well-meant and sincere “Carmen and Lola,” which charts the burgeoning love affair between two young women in a Madrid Roma community, has to embrace so many of them.

While the overarching narrative is now familiar to the point of blandness, what differentiation Echevarría does achieve is largely down to the insights, observed by Pilar Sanchez Diaz’s handheld camerawork, into the rites and rituals of Spanish Roma culture. There is little mixing with the mainstream, and even those kids who go to school among the “Whiteys” (as it is translated) — meaning anyone from outside this rigorously codified and hierarchical community — are in a small minority.

Sixteen-year-old Lola (Zaira Romero) is one of the very slightly more liberated younger generation, with her mother Flor (Rafaela León) wanting better prospects for her daughter than the life of illiteracy and making-ends-meet that she has led. Lola’s father Paco (Moreno Borja), however, is more suspicious of the outside world and, as long as there is “food on the table,” does not understand why Lola might desire anything other than to help out on the family’s market stall, before early marriage and motherhood come to occupy her days.

But Lola, a graffiti artist with an idle interest in ornithology, does desire other things, as leadenly established in an early scene where she sneaks into an internet cafe and googles “Madrid Lesbians.” And when she meets Carmen (Rosy Rodríguez), a sassy, leggy 17-year-old who is engaged to Lola’s cousin, that desire takes human form. Carmen is at first horrified by the revelation of her new friend’s lesbianism, but gradually realizes that she reciprocates Lola’s romantic feelings. A giggly, chastely presented love affair of hand-holding and kissing in deserted stairwells and drained swimming pools ensues.

The largely non-professional cast acquit themselves well, with Romero and Rodríguez embodying a certain type of opposites-attract chemistry. Lola is quieter and more thoughtful, a tomboy who teeters when forced into high heels. Carmen is brassier and more outgoing, a firm adherent of the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” school of fashion, which is ironic given that one of the assurances her father has to give to the father of her potential groom, is of her unsullied, unworldly purity. “She has never gone out unaccompanied,” he claims, “She doesn’t even own a mobile phone.”

Part of the issue with “Carmen and Lola” is that gitano culture (to use their own word) is solely presented in terms of its stifling, constricting effect on its young women, and so it’s hard to invest in a real sense of dilemma. Its traditions, music and glitzy pageantry are all presented as aspects of a fundamentally regressive and unpleasant ritualization of women’s subjugation to men, from the songs they sing to the clothes they wear to the religious services they attend, which are portrayed as less a source of comfort or an expression of faith than a respectable way for girls to meet potential husbands.

Though Roma life must have its compensations, here it is presented simply as something from which any thinking young woman would surely long to escape. Even Carmen’s young, handsome fiancé, whom she scarcely knows, has to reveal a dark side — how much more interesting and dramatic it would have been had he been a genuinely decent, viable proposition for Carmen’s future. Similarly the leading ladies themselves are given little real characterization outside of their tentative, blushing mutual attraction. In stacking the deck this way, Echevarría has sapped “Carmen and Lola” of some of its dramatic potential, electing instead to make a pleasant but linear, single-issue movie, which is compassionate and deeply felt, but also tidy and tamed, just like first love isn’t.

Film Review: 'Carmen and Lola'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 15, 2018. Running Time: 103 MIN. (Original Title: "Carmen y Lola")

Production: (Spain) A Eurozoom (in France) presentation of a TVTEC Servicios Audiovisuales production with the support of Orange Espana, Comunidad De Madrid, ICAA. (International Sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Producer: Eduardo Santana. Executive producers: Pilar Sanchez Diaz, Arantxa Echevarría.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Arantxa Echevarría. Camera (Color, widescreen): Pilar Sanchez Diaz. Editor: Renato Sanjuan. Music: Nina Aranda.

With: Zaira Romero, Rosy Rodríguez, Moreno Borja, Rafaela Leon, Carolina Yuste. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Sophia Antipolis

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Sophia Antipolis'

    There are two Sophias in French director Virgil Vernier’s clever, cunning, chilling fifth feature. The first is its setting, the eponymous “Sophia Antipolis,” a technology park in the south of France, a place self-consciously designed as an experiment in social engineering, where an international community of professionals would, it was hoped, create an environment of [...]

  • I Lost My Body

    Netflix Pickup ‘I Lost My Body,’ ‘Buñuel,’ ‘Away’ Top Annecy Festival

    ANNECY, France  — Fulfilling expectations, Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body, the subject of one of the highest-profile Netflix deals at this year’s Cannes, won this Saturday the Annecy Festival’s top Cristal Award of best feature plus, in a relatively rare Annecy double whammy, the festival’s Audience Award. The first was expected, the second a [...]

  • 'Fausto' Review: Andrea Bussmann's Beautuful, Inscrutable

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Fausto'

    In more ways than one, “Fausto” is a film that likes to keep its audience in the dark: The bulk of its imagery is thickly cloaked in velvety night, often barely illuminated but for pinpricks of moonlight or a flickering candle, sometimes to the point where viewers must strain and squint to identify what they’re [...]

  • Toy Story 4

    The 15 Best Films of 2019 (So Far)

    By now, audiences have caught on to the way American distributors tend to stockpile their quality movies for end-of-year award-season release, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t treasures to be found in the first two quarters. In fact, sometimes it’s the movies that aren’t making a self-important Oscar push that wind up hitting closest to [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    'Men In Black: International' Taking in $26 Million Amid Franchise Fatigue

    North American moviegoers spurned sequels this weekend with Sony’s “Men in Black: International” heading for a modest $26 million debut while “Shaft” will finish with a dismal $7.3 million in seventh place. “Men in Black: International,” the fourth iteration of the sci-fi comedy franchise, is performing under expectations, which had been in the $30 million [...]

  • Night scenery of the Bund in

    Shanghai Festival Defies Gloom to Open on Upbeat Note

    The Chinese film industry may not yet have emerged from a “cold winter” production freeze, nor its box office kept pace with 2018. But but those inclement elements did not put a chill on the pageantry at the Shanghai International Film Festival. The opening ceremony for the festival’s 22nd edition went ahead Saturday with the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content