Film Review: “Carmen And Lola” – Coming Out As Gay In Repressive Romani Culture

romani

It’s a familiar theme relating the attitude that we have as a society, and men in particular, concerning women. It’s a theme that revolves around well-known clichés, but that we will never get tired of seeing. We must certainly never get tired of facing the truth about what it is to be a woman. We must love women for what they are and not how they must fit in to the grand order of things, as determined by men. It must not be the fate of women to be caught up in a repressive society where their only way of living is by complying to the rigid man-made laws of religion, sexuality and patriarchy.

This is no ordinary film because of the nature of the camerawork that gives us a documentary-like insight into the rites and rituals of Spanish Romani culture. Lola (Zaira Romero) is a liberated 16-year-old who is very clear about her sexuality and wants more than just helping out her family with the market stall. She wants to succeed at school and make something of her life. Her mother Flor (Rafaela León) also wishes for her daughter to have a better life than she has, but seems to do little about helping her, being trapped between the claws of a mundane life and an uncompromising husband. For Lola’s father Paco (Moreno Borja), she doesn’t need an education, as long as there’s food on the table. He just doesn’t understand why on earth Lola would want any other life than the one she has.

We as Romani people pay for not having dreams. – Lola

Lola is unconventional in a Romani world dominated by birthday and engagement party rituals, religion and patriarchal values whereby a woman should remain silent, accept her fate, and cultivate her docility. She is unconventional because she is a graffiti artist and takes an interest in ornithology – a word she can barely pronounce. But by far her greatest challenge to the accepted hierarchy of the Romani community, is her sexuality. From secretly entering internet-cafés and searching “Madrid lesbians” on Google, she finally meets Carmen, a leggy 17-year-old about to be engaged to her cousin. Reticent to Lola’s advances at first, Carmen soon reciprocates romantic feelings. The two young girls, lost in a grown-up’s world dominated by macho men and subdued women, have nowhere else to express their forbidden love for each other than in deserted staircases and empty swimming pools.

Lola’s parents reaction to her sexuality epitomizes the problems that women face in such an archaic patriarchal society. Upon discovering her homosexuality, Lola’s mother is in tears, begging her daughter to tell her that it’s not true, that it’s a lie. But love never lies, it only casts its precious wings to protect those who possess it, from the bigotry of others. For Lola’s father though, this sort of love is a curse of the devil and can only be eradicated through an act of God. In a scene that resembles more an exorcism than conciliatory words from the heavens, Lola becomes an outcast, thrown into the wilderness far beyond the police surveillance tower that casts its eyes over the Romani community.

Carmen and Lola find their happiness on a golden beach, staring into the setting sun. As they run hand-in-hand towards the warm waters of an infinite ocean, Lola has paid the price for her lesbian love – losing her family but gaining her freedom. It’s a price worth paying by any woman.