Review: Elisa y Marcela

Greta Fernández and Natalia de Molina in Elisa y Marcela

The slow paced Elisa and Marcela (Elisa y Marcela) left me with a lot of questions. Many of them relate to the lost parts of this tale, which was based on a true story. You can watch this Spanish language love story on Netflix.

In 1901, in Spain, two women – Elisa Sánchez Loriga (Natalia de Molina) and Marcela Gracia Ibeas (Greta Fernández) got married. It was illegal. They managed this feat because Elisa disguised herself as a man.

The film is divided roughly in three acts. The first is how Elisa and Marcela met and fell in love as schoolgirls. The second act is them finding a way to live together as adults. That lead to the marriage. The remaining act is what happened after that illegal act.

Greta Fernández and Natalia de Molina in Elisa y Marcela

Elisa and Marcela had a highly sexual relationship in the film. However, if they honestly used octopi and seaweed as sex aids, I’d like some historic proof.

The marriage was an act of desperation. They were teachers as adults, living together. But the villagers figured out they were lovers and began harassing them.

They did two things. Marcela got pregnant using a village man. Apparently it only took one night together. Elisa disappeared for a while and came back pretending to be Mario. They hoped that a man named Mario with a pregnant wife would be safe.

They were not.

They ran. They made it to Portugal, where they were imprisoned.

The Portuguese newspapers shared the story of two imprisoned women who were married. Portuguese women seemed enamored with the idea and began showing up at the prison with gifts for them. There was a great deal of LGBTQ allyship history left at the prison gates with the gifts, because that aspect of the story went undeveloped.

After months in prison, they left their baby girl with a childless couple in return for safe passage to Argentina.

They lived safely together in a remote part of Argentina until the story took up again in 1925 when their daughter Ana (Sara Casasnovas) paid a visit. How they lived for all those years is unexplained. If they used letters to stay in contact with their daughter’s adoptive family, those letters are lost.

Those are the facts of the story. There are many, many blank sections that may be lost to history. (Unfortunately, neither of them were obsessive diarists.)

One historic bit we do have is a photo of the real couple.

The real Elisa and Marcela
The wedding photo of the real Elisa and Marcela

Elisa y Marcela was written and directed by Isabel Coixet. She saw the women as heroic.

In the closing credits there was information about how many countries in the world now permit same sex marriage, how many punish it with prison, and how many punish it with death. The dialog between the women wasn’t part of a story about the right to marry the person you love regardless of gender. I would have appreciated some of that sort of conversation between the women as they struggled to deal with their situation and as they came up with their creative idea to survive.

The film was shot in black and white. While black and white creates some beautiful images and scenes, it gave this love story a very somber tone. The soundtrack was somber as well. The film had an old-fashioned vibe that was in keeping with the historic time it explored.

This true story is interesting because it’s true. It doesn’t completely succeed as a film, but it’s an example of lesbian survival worth knowing about.

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Poster for Elisa y Marcela

Watch the Trailer for Elisa y Marcela

Have you seen this film? What did you think of it?

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