Film Review: Carmen and Lola

Image source: IMDB

Each year, Natasha and I attend the Spanish Film Festival at Palace Cinemas in Sydney. We also go to the German and Greek festivals when we can, however the Spanish festival has become our annual tradition, as we have been going since we first got together.

This year, we made a point of seeing a film called Carmen and Lola, which I believe exemplifies the amazing kinds of storytelling that one can find beyond Hollywood.

The film follows the story of two young women, Carmen and Lola, who live in a close-knit gypsy community in the suburbs of Madrid. Both must grapple with the heavy expectations of their respective families: Carmen is engaged to be married and must come to terms with the idea that she is to be a housewife and raise as many children as possible; and Lola is somewhat of a black sheep, choosing to continue her school education and dreaming of a life at university. Furthermore, she has a passion for street art and graffiti and is also coming to terms with her love for women. They both become friends at the local market where they work and in their repeat encounters, develop a relationship and complicity that threatens to destabilise their own connections to their families.

Carmen and Lola is a beautiful film that deals with themes of love, family, friendship and tradition. Whilst the gypsy families in the film obviously love their children and wish the very best for them, their expectations are framed by years of strict, intergenerational tradition and patriarchy. Men are truly privileged—considerably more than in the surrounding non-gypsy community—and women are expected to forsake all education and any other kind of creative or professional ambition.

Music is used sparingly throughout the film, playing mainly in the form of live performance by characters, such as bands or accompanying audio systems at parties and get-togethers. This allows the viewer to experience the pure emotion of the film, without any soundtrack music telling you how to feel (as is so often the case in Hollywood movies). Simultaneously, this lack of a consistent, dominating soundtrack works with a range of long and close shots to create somewhat of a claustrophobic feel for the viewer. It almost feels like on-screen theatre. Madrid’s gypsy community is so separate from the outside world and we only hear the voices, traditional music and often drawn-out, empty silence of these underprivileged streets. The rest of the city is visible but just out of reach.

In the genuine representation of these characters, as Carmen and Lola walk the streets and go about their day, they are followed by a kind of silence—one that makes you feel like someone, perhaps a neighbour, is always watching.

As Hollywood goes about recycling stories and remaking superhero movies endlessly, many viewers will often say ‘There’s nothing good at the movies anymore’. On the other hand, foreign-language filmmakers from Europe and beyond are making unbelievably real, relatable stories that employ motifs, characters and techniques that create a totally alternative experience. As I watched Carmen and Lola, I felt the same suffocation and pressure that they did in their insular world. Films should transport you and this one certainly did.

Carmen and Lola is showing around Australia at the Spanish Film Festival at Palace Cinemas from 16 April to 26 May 2019.