Director Arantxa Echevarría’s Carmen and Lola (Carmen y Lola) is an intimate lesbian romance that sensitively navigates the difficulty of reconciling family and sexuality within Madrid’s Romani community. The film sheds a light on an underrepresented area of Spanish cinema, highlighting the struggles many young Romani women face in living up to the standards set by their culture.
17-year-old Carmen (Rosy Rodriguez) is getting married – like most Romani girls, she is preparing to take on the duties of a good housewife and mother, and fancies herself a hairdresser. Though glamorous and confident she may be, there is an uncertainty within Carmen that she does not begin to explore until she meets Lola (Zaira Morales), the cousin of her husband-to-be. Lola is 16, and unlike most girls in her community, still at school. She helps her parents run their market stall but wants to train as a teacher, despite pressure from her father to prioritise marriage, work, and church. Lola escapes her conservative family by hiding away in an internet café and using chatrooms to talk to girls, struggling to come to terms with her sexuality without safe means to express it.
Carmen and Lola’s chance encounter develops into a budding romance through texts and secretive cigarette breaks during work hours; though they grow closer, pressure mounts from both sides of their unsuspecting families that would keep them apart. Unlike many saccharine teen romances, Carmen and Lola has a distinct realist atmosphere maintained by documentary-like handheld cinematography and brusque editing that remind us of the gritty truth of their situation. Carmen and Lola’s relationship blossoms, but community life carries on around them, and they cannot forgo the constant routine of chores and social obligations. It becomes apparent that the two cannot co-exist, and the girls face the frightening prospect of leaving one family behind to make their own.
As a romance, the film is relatively modest, focusing as much (if not more) on Romani culture and fleshing out the girls’ community as their relationship. Echevarría’s nuanced storytelling makes the narrative climax all the more heart-breaking; Carmen and Lola does not shy away from the devastating reality of being rejected by the people closest to you, and a community you take pride in. Nevertheless, Carmen and Lola come to the liberating realisation that happiness is on the horizon, and the film will remind young LGBT audiences that they have the strength and conviction to break away and seek it out themselves.
by Megan Wilson