In the introduction to the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival screening of Carmen and Lola, the audience is invited to consider the ‘journey’ of the two protagonists. Being told this is a love story, but ‘narrative’ is the way each character changes as they develop, it feels as if set an assignment is being set.

This is a story about forbidden love; a familiar trope in the LGBTQ+ oeuvre. But it examines this from within Madrid’s Roma community, giving a new perspective. For many, I suspect, this is an insight into the ‘gitano’ people, who live fiercely independent of and separate from the ‘whiteys’ in the same city.

Nevertheless they are under surveillance. The film’s documentary style, with hand-held cameras and intrusive, lingering close-up shots, gives the impression that we also are observing, surveying, and potentially judging.

With this level of antipathy and animosity, these people are bound to hold onto their religious and traditional observations. Sadly, this makes for a highly patriarchal society in which a woman’s role is that of subservient wife and child-bearer. Add a dose of homophobia to this crucible and things are bound to explode.

While Lola is quickly established as being inquisitive about her sexuality, Carmen on the other hand seems to accept her fate as she becomes engaged to (as it happens) Lola’s cousin. When the two girls meet, they quickly form a rapport, but Carmen rejects Lola at first on the basis of her being ‘different.’ This is about more than sexuality.

As often happens with homophobia, reaction is due to a person’s fear of acknowledging their own feelings. When Lola opens Carmen’s eyes to a world of new possibilities, it’s not only a new love she is introducing, but also, a world beyond their insular community. It comes with a price. Whether they escape – unscathed or otherwise – we’ll never know.

Instead of a Q&A, there is a discussion to follow the film, led by Professor Nuria Capdevila, of the University of Exeter. We learn that the director, Arantxa Echevarría, made the film with a real Gypsy community, using amateur actors. There was indeed a difficult reaction among the community regarding portraying such a contentious subject.

Another crucial reference, provided by the Professor, was the intertextual reference to Garcia Lorca in the final scene. In the poem, Romance de la Pena Negra he says:

In the end you’ll reach the sea, and waves will swallow you.

In the final scene (the only non-hand-held shot) we see the girls running into the sea, like caged birds flying to freedom. At least, we hope that is so, but as I’ve said, we don’t know.

Nevertheless, it is true that the two young actors who play the eponymous roles, Zaira Romero and Rosy Rodríguez respectively, are now fledgling actors with, one hopes, a well-deserved career ahead of them.

It seems there is a meta-narrative of journey and change going on in this film.

I was glad to have this academic insight, and could write another five hundred words on the themes, imagery, the sumptuous style, subtle soundscape, and metaphorical subtext of the film. Sadly, I’m not sure the Filmhouse audience were up for an intense discussion at 10.45 on a Friday night, which made the post-film discussion a little forced.

Luckily, there are some good bars nearby, including the Filmhouse Bar, and the one mentioned in my bio below. Every cloud…

For more on the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival click here.