Pepa endures the merciless sun of Benidorm to walk along its beaches handing out flyers to tourists and teenagers wanting to party. She works as ‘public relations’ for the famous Penelope nightclub and earns very little, or at least not enough to support her daughter Leila.
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One day Pepa is seen in the street with Leila in her arms. Homeless, without a decent job and without resources, mother and daughter witness a precipitous fall of dominoes: everything that seemed stable ceases to be so. Only then will Pepa realize the deficiencies in her relationship with little Leila, whom she has left in charge of other people for years.
The director Júlia de Paz Solvas was 25 years old when she premiered this, her first solo feature film, at the latest edition of the Malaga Film Festival. There Love she won the Feroz Critics Award and the Silver Biznaga for Best Actress for Tamara Casellas. Now it hits theaters as one of the most important revelations of the year on the Spanish scene. A tough, beautiful film, straight to the point and forceful in its discourse on motherhood.
The heavy burden of being a mother
Pepa is a tired young woman from minute one of the movie. His backpack of trauma is physically palpable: he spends the movie dragging bags of clothes and holding his daughter by the hand or in his arms, one more burden. As if Leila were a bundle to carry from one place to another, until it was safely stored. Those are the weights that are seen, because those that are not seen are transmitted through the look, full of anger, of the main actress: a very dedicated Tamara Casellas who if she does not already have the Goya for Best New Actress in her hand is because the gala has not been held yet.
Pepa, her character, was a teenage mother and no one has taught her how to exercise motherhood. She does not know what to do with her life, much less what to do with Leila’s, but the very fact of conceiving imposes a social mandate on her: now she has to be responsible, not get drunk, not make mistakes, be a good mother, know take care, think for both. As if that knowledge was acquired by magic during childbirth.
“I’m not a mother, but there are always feelings of having felt abandoned at some point or of having felt guilty and not forgiven that connect you with the character,” says Júlia de Paz, the director, who attends elDiario.es after the preview.
For the director, it is clear that there is “social pressure to do everything well if you are a mother.” “What would happen if it were a man? We are used to seeing male characters make mistakes and from the outset we would say ‘oh poor man, what situation has he had to live in’, while with her it seems that she is judged for any error,” he adds.
Tamara Casellas, the actress who plays Pepa, comments that her character “is someone who has tried hard to get where she goes”. A woman that “at first you don’t like her and you judge her, but you end up empathizing and she hooks you emotionally”.
A cinema of closing wounds
Before releasing this film, Júlia de Paz had co-directed The filla d’algú –Collective project carried out by 11 ESCAC students–, and made a short film entitled, precisely, Love. That was the seed: an 18-minute short shot with the same intensity as the film at hand, for which Tamara Casellas also played the role of Pepa.
For this reason, the director’s youth should not be confused with a lack of experience: Júlia de Paz deployed in 2018 the same formal device that supports her first solo feature film. He did it using the same main actress and with the same background speech. He was clear about how he wanted to tell this story, so it would be vague to say that this film surprises with its ‘maturity’, a term used too many times to support a certain paternalistic tone with which the critics settle – we settle – when dealing with any debut.
Love embraces thematic and aesthetic concerns of an honest, vibrant social cinema, made from the nerve of the camera in hand and the naturalness of the dialogues without clichés. But, above all, it is a surprisingly beautiful film because of how much real emotion it contains. Love it feels like a wound that needed to heal and its urgency, its momentum, makes it magnetic from start to finish.
The same director tells that this film was born during the process of recovery from a depression, which was treated with psychological and psychiatric help. He suffered from an anxiety disorder whose origin the specialists told him could come from his fear of abandonment. One day his mother told him: “I think everything that happens to you is my fault. Because of how I have overprotected you and raised you from fear, for fear that something would happen to you.”
Then something inside Júlia de Paz stirred. “This guilt still persists in her. I refuse to justify my illness because of how my mother approached her motherhood. All women live under the demanding myth of motherhood: if you get out of there you are a bad mother and, consequently, a bad woman “.
The reason for being of a character like Pepa is that guilt of a mother who has done things the best she knew how and, despite everything, it has not been enough: the system always demands more. Love it is that wound to close and before his honesty of speech there is no room for cynicism.
That is why Pepa constantly caresses the scar left by the cesarean section with which Leila came into the world. That is why his story becomes something else in the hands of Júlia de Paz: Love it is revealed to us as a forceful denunciation, without gray, of the oppressions that many other Pepas have suffered and to which no one ever dedicated a film.