Starring: Natalia de Molina, Greta Fernández, Sara Casasnovas
Director: Isabel Coixet
Running Time: 113 mins
Elisa & Marcela is a Spanish film about two young women who meet in a convent at the turn of the twentieth century, and despite their orthodox surroundings, fall in love and, with one disguising herself as a man, become the first same-sex couple to marry in Spain.
The story of forbidden love comes up regularly in the romance genre, and even more so in recent years with the growth in presence of LGBT stories on the big screen. Elisa & Marcela adds to that list, and while it captures the elegance and romance of a passionate love really well throughout, it lacks the dramatic power to hammer home its key message, ultimately coming off as a rather underwhelming and superficial film.
But let’s start on the bright side, with the fact that, for its lack of real, intense dramatic power, Elisa & Marcela is certainly an engaging and pleasingly elegant watch. Both atmospherically and visually, the film flows wonderfully throughout, and while it might not hit the emotional beats it often aims to, it does more than enough to make for a very graceful film.
Firstly, the visuals are absolutely wonderful from beginning to end here. With dazzling black-and-white cinematography that brings a strong sentimentality to the central romance, the movie proves a captivating step back in time, only furthered by excellent costume and production design throughout. It may not quite use those visual techniques to such strong effect as the likes of Roma, a film whose visuals only enriched its thematic depth and emotional intrigue, but the visuals certainly prove the real stand-out quality of Elisa & Marcela.
On top of that, director Isabel Coixet excellently gives central focus to the romance between Elisa & Marcela, playing to the film’s sentimental strengths and making for an often powerfully romantic watch, particularly in the early stages of the girls’ hidden relationship. In that, the film is only more endearing and graceful, although perhaps lacking when it comes to the film’s other key theme.
So, that’s my big problem with Elisa & Marcela. Despite being an engaging and wonderful romantic drama, it really misses the mark when it comes to delivering the story about oppression of same-sex relationships and marriage in the context of an almost entirely orthodox society.
Disappointingly, and rather inexplicably, the oppression and opposition that the two girls come across isn’t particularly menacing, and the film fails to use an obviously unjust and oppressive area of history to get under your skin, with the pair’s romance seemingly able to get over any struggle, even if it may seem an enormous threat.
So, while the whole town, and eventually the government, launch themselves rather viciously against the relationship, the film fails to capture that intense vileness in the attacks upon the pair, and that in turn means it’s really difficult to sympathise with the film’s message about oppression, when it just doesn’t seem so threatening.
Of course, real-world knowledge plays a role in your perception of the film, but this movie relies almost entirely on your knowledge of the real injustice of the oppression of same-sex marriage, and does little to further get under your skin on its own.
Overall, then, Elisa & Marcela wasn’t quite as powerful as I felt its story warranted, lacking the power and intensity with its central theme, but it equally impresses with elegant and wonderfully sentimental romance throughout, furthered by fantastic visuals right the way through, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.