Around the world, same-sex marriage is only legal in 25 countries. I’m very thankful to be living in one but it’s obvious that gay rights have a very long way to go before they reach a sustained level of equality across the globe. Based on a true story, Elisa and Marcela tells the story of two young girls who fall in love during a tumultuous time in 1900’s Spain.
Knowing they face being shunned by society, Marcela Gracia takes on the identity of male Mario Sánchez in order to marry her lover, Elisa, in the hope of living happily ever after. As the film progresses, we see the trials and tribulations the two face, with the narrowed, unapproving look of the church and society lingering ever-nearer as the film draws on. It takes a while to get going but when it does, Elisa and Marcela comes into its own, showing the harsh, ugly truth homosexuals of that era faced.
Shot entirely in black and white, this Spanish drama is certainly an artistic picture, with numerous clever camera tricks and interesting compositional techniques used throughout the film. From half-submerged cameras in water to long shots and face to face interviews with fading, ghostly images, Elisa and Marcela throws every trick in the Directorial book at the screen throughout the film. It works quite well too although at times this does become a little distracting from the story being told.
The characters and acting are ultimately where the film shines though. The natural chemistry between Natalia de Molina and Greta Fernández really helps here and when they share the screen together, you really get a feel for their blossoming relationship, which is realistically depicted and evolves nicely throughout the film. While the supporting cast do their jobs well, it’s ultimately these two leads who really stand out, even if some of the dialogue between them feels simplified and a bit uninspiring.
Whilst I understand what Director Isabel Coixet was trying to do with the abundance of silent scenes throughout the film, personally these segments don’t always work, dragging out the picture unnecessarily. When the music kicks in, via either piano or violin strums, the film comes to life and helps add depth to the blossoming relationship between the two leads. This is where the film really shines but these moments feel frustratingly rare.
At the heart of it, Elisa and Marcela is an art-house picture, meaning there’s likely to be a polarizing reaction to this Spanish film. Despite some interesting compositional techniques and an artistic flair throughout the film’s run-time, too much of Elisa and Marcela feels free of tension, held back by a lack of music through large stretches of the film that highlights some of the issues with the dialogue. Elisa and Marcela is a pretty good period piece though, an important film highlighting the struggles faced with equality, but unlikely to have the impact to spur on the crusading fight for gay rights it so easily could have.