In Elisa y Marcela, director Isabel Coixet brings a tender story of love and desperation in a time of intolerance to the big screen (and small, with the film being distributed by Netflix). At times less effective than it should be, the film does well to tell the story of the first same-sex marriage in Spain, in 1901.
The film is a Spanish drama based on a true story, about two women who disguise themselves as a heterosexual couple in order to get married and escape. Young students Elisa and Marcela meet at a Catholic school, and quickly realise their mutual attraction, hiding from prying nuns and parents to spend time together. Then, after Marcela is sent away to boarding school, they meet again years later to continue the relationship as adults.
The story spans a long period of time, but the chemistry between the two women stays electric throughout, and the sexual tension built up before the two can finally be together for one night in private is tangible; Natalia de Molina and Greta Fernández throw themselves into the roles of these two pioneering women with great energy and passion.
Elisa y Marcela does make some odd stylistic choices, using wipes and transitions into archive footage that distract from the naturalistic approach of the rest of the film and occasionally affects the serious tone that it’s aiming for. And once the marriage has actually taken place, about halfway through, the second hour struggles to keep up the same level of intrigue dramatic tension.
While the film does have some stylistic and pacing faults, Elisa y Marcela is an emotional drama that sends an important message of hope to minority groups, and shows just how far much of the world has to go in terms of acceptance.
CAST: Natalia de Molina, Greta Fernández, Jorge Suquet
DIRECTOR: Isabel Coixet
WRITERS: Isabel Coixet, Narciso de Gabriel
SYNOPSIS: In 1901, Marcela Gracia Ibeas took on the identity of Mario Sánchez to marry her lover of fifteen years, Elisa Sanchez Loriga.