Isabel Coixet, the writer-director, has transformed a real romantic story from twentieth-century LGBT Spanish history into something befuddlingly passionless, humourless, and exceedingly tasteful, aided by elegant monochrome photography that produces each image look like a greeting card from an art shop.
Coixet also has a haughty practice of ending scenes with a “iris out” shift, a shrinking spherical window on one persona, as in a silent film -an evidently playful touch that contrasts with the seriousness of what has come before. In addition, the film is burdened by two very undynamic appearances.
Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Graciela Ibeas were women who married in 1901 in Spain. Elisa poses as a guy. When the impersonation was revealed, there was controversy and scandalous press uproar; the couple managed to flee to Portugal, intending to relocate to South America, though the marriage was never annulled.
There are rumours that Marcela had a child, which Coixet cleverly incorporates into her story: a heterosexual meeting organized to result in childbirth that would (she wished) avert the apprehensions of the howling witch-hunt mob, who want to know if her “man” is actually female.
However, it only results in terrible drama and heartbreaks. In Isabel Coixet’s latest film, the story as to what was debatably Spain’s first gay marriage ended up turning into an incessantly pretty melodrama. Due to some tasteful lesbian love scenes, one of which bafflingly includes an octopus, the excessively long play, shot in monochrome, could plausibly pass for quirky with a broader audience.
There is an evident mismatch between the shadowy, initially more subservient Marcela and her fairer, more wealthy friend. But the storyline isn’t extremely keen on elaborating on this; it also doesn’t delve deeply into the living conditions in village Galicia, where the two friends live.
Coixet is more concerned with the sexual and emotional blossoming of the two women’s romance as it gives way to their collaborative passions. This is enacted in an artful, erotic climax that commences with slow bustier unlacing and progresses via toe-sucking.
When the township rumour mill becomes too much to endure, Elisa vanishes for a while. She reappears as Mario, presuming the personality of a possibly fictional cousin who passed on – a comical male act that fools the local priest, if not the viewers, long enough for the couple to marry.
In a stiffly melodramatic concluding part, condemnation follows hot on the trail of deceit. Even though situations are at their darkest, Elisa and Marcela’s identical jail clothes look like they belong in a D&G collection from the mid-1990s. A return to the Argentine set – up of the 1920s draws a plot twist, allowing Coixet to neatly wrap up the matter that there is hardly any documentation of how the actual Elisa Sanchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas died.
In attempting to recount a narrative that has been wiped away from the heritage of sexuality, the movie is artistically envisioned. However, there was a sense of hopelessness and flair.