'Carmen and Lola’: Film Review | Cannes 2018
Rosy Rodríguez and Zaira Romero star as the eponymous teenage girls from the Roma community, who find themselves falling in love in this feature debut from Spanish director Arantxa Echevarria.
Two teenage girls raised in Spain's deeply traditional gypsy community fall in love and face tough choices in Carmen and Lola, a pleasant but predictable queer awakening drama and feature debut for writer-director Arantxa Echevarria, who's made a number of shorts. Buoyed by sympathetic performances by the cast and a credible evocation of life in Madrid's scruffy satellite towns, it's a watchable enough work to ensure further bookings on the festival circuit. That said, some viewers from the LGBT community may find this a little too vanilla and hetero-friendly with its model-thin, short-shorts wearing protagonists.
Both the titular heroines live with their families in a poor neighborhood, some distance from Madrid. Carmen's family sells antiques at the local open-air market; Lola's sells fruit and vegetables, although when the story starts the two girls have never met before. When their eyes meet one day over a bolt of plastic tarpaulin, the slightly more tomboyish Lola (Zaira Romero), who already secretly identifies as a lesbian, is instantly smitten with the ultra-feminine Carmen (Rosy Rodriguez).
However, Carmen is already engaged to marry a boy who turns out to be Lola's cousin, not such a surprising coincidence given how close-knit the Roma community is. (Incidentally, although some people these days object to the word "gypsy," considering it pejorative, throughout the film characters refer to themselves as "gitanas" or "gitanos," the Spanish word for gypsy.)
At the lavish engagement party Carmen's family throw for her, where the girl of the hour shows off the family's wealth in a pearl-encrusted, belly button-revealing dress, the two young women dance suggestively together, further feeding their mutual attraction although none of the onlookers even blinks. As with the legend of Queen Victoria, who refused to sign legislation against lesbians because she simply refused to believe such a thing even existed, no one suspects anything in this physically demonstrative culture when Carmen and Lola take to holding hands and enjoying sleepovers at each other's houses. Even so, when a neighbor spots them making out in a quiet corner (the most sexually explicit scene in a generally modest film; this ain't no Blue Is the Warmest Color), it's only a matter of time until word gets back to their parents. When it does, all hell breaks loose.
Echevarria elicits fine, naturalistic performances from the mostly non-professional cast, and the two leads are likable presences who definitely have chemistry together. Drawing on the talents within the local Roma community, the film features lashings of terrific performances featuring flamenco-Roma style music, especially in the scenes set in the local Catholic church where the flock praise Jesus with acoustic guitars and harmonic vocals. One senses that care must have been taken to differ from the usual campsite cliches that make up depictions of gypsies in cinema, but that has resulted in a work that's ultimately both insipid and arguably too sympathetic for some viewers to the homophobic attitudes of the family.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight)
Production: A TVTEC Servicios Audiovisuales presentation with the support of Orange Espana, Comunidad De Madrid, ICAA
Cast: Zaira Romero, Rosy Rodríguez, Moreno Borja, Rafaela Leon, Carolina Yuste
Director/screenwriter: Arantxa Echevarria
Producers: Eduardo Santana
Executive producers: Pilar Sanchez Diaz, Arantxa Echevarría
Director of photography: Pilar Sanchez Diaz
Production designer: Soledad Sesena
Costume designer: Cuarto Ropero, Teresa Mora
Editor: Renato Sanjuan
Music: Nina Aranda