Carmen & Lola
16-year-old Lola (Zaira Romero) meets Carmen (Rosy Rodríguez), a sassy 17-year-old who is engaged to Lola’s cousin Rafa (Juan José Jiménez), at the Madrid market where both of their Roma families work. During their first encounter, the younger girl’s lesbian feelings flourish and, despite initial rejection from her companion, the relationship develops into a romantic affair.
Understandably, the rigidly heteronormative lifestyle engrained in Spanish Roma culture would stifle any person and make them yearn for freedom. For the two adolescents, this is considerably magnified. Lola’s passing interest in ornithology and the lovers’ fascination with the sea, therefore, become symbolic of the liberation they require to continue their relationship.
The oppression the pair experience is further evinced through the dialogue between the older domineering patriarchs and their subservient housewives. The hand-held camerawork of Pilar Sanchez Diaz gives these moments a true-to-life documentary feel, convincing viewers that this cultural representation is wholly authentic and faithful to reality.
However, the believability is lost as the presentation of the titular duo prior to their romance feels incongruous to the developing narrative. Carmen, for a start, homophobically rebuffs Lola and is engaged to Rafa in a ceremony where the ritual has wider cultural implications on her family. Yet, she overcomes those powerful bonds with little conflict.
Lola, though shyer and more disaffected with her heritage than her lover, forgoes her dominant character trait, and the expectations of her community, to make romantic graffiti that makes her feelings for Carmen public. She continues to pursue the character, despite the initial rejection leading to bed-bound depression.
On the one hand, the audience may see the blithe attitude of both and expression of public gestures as representative of the power that first love can have over a person. The film, however, gives us little grounding of the complexity of these characters before they begin their romance. In addition, it has immersed us in the inflexible expectations of young Roma women. As a result, it feels flippant to present the protagonists as fairly untroubled or conflicted by such overbearing cultural expectations around marriage and heteronormativity. It is the lack of attention to this dilemma that, as an audience member, one might feel prohibits the drama from transcending a straightforward story of forbidden love.
Like the couple, the feature’s heart is in the right place. The narrative, though, feels too commonplace given the complexity of the wider context.
Carmen & Lola is released digitally on demand on 7th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Carmen & Lola here: