Main image
28th May
2011
written by Mad Cow

Rated: Unrated

Mad Cow’s Rating:

This lovely film, co-written and co-directed by Jon Garano and Jose Maria Goenaga, is the story of two older women faced with a second chance for a relationship long abandoned but not quite forgotten. Written in Basque, the language of a region in northeast Spain and southwest France, its original has subtitles in Spanish. Luckily I got to see it with English subtitles at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The film was on April 23, but I have no idea how wide the distribution will be. You may need to rent it on Netflix.

Seventy-year-old Axun (Itziar Aizpuru), a “farmer’s wife,” begins to visit her ex-son-in-law, lying in a coma at a nearby hospital, because he has no one else to be there for him. Her daughter, now living in America, won’t come, and he has no friends. Also, she has little else to do. There she meets Maite (Mariasun Pagoaga), an accomplished pianist and university music teacher, there to be with her brother, also in a coma and sharing the hospital room.

The two women soon remember and recognize the friends they were as teen girls together. But they were actually a bit more than friends. Slowly their old feelings re-emerge, to the delight of open-lesbian Maite and the horror of Axun who, after all, has been married for many years. What to do? Well, for one thing, they enjoy each other’s company. Occasionally, a caption tells us how many days it has been.

The movie is remarkable in its portrayal of older women as people first and old people second. Their ages and the baggage that comes with age are just a part of the story, not the main thing. The sexual chemistry between them is apparent. This  story line is rarely bestowed on any women characters, heterosexual or otherwise. Furthermore, neither is a great beauty. How cool is that! We get to enjoy their time together even as the tension builds between Axun and her husband (Jose Ramon Argoitia), a plain and patriarchal man who is all the same likeable and becoming vulnerable in his old age. He only knows one way to live.

Axun’s daughter (Ane Gabarain) in America provides welcome comedy relief. Clearly she has moved there to get away from her mother. Conversations between mother and daughter should call to mind situations in which most women have found themselves – often on both sides. Why is her mother visiting her horrible ex-husband in the hospital? Just another thing to annoy her, surely. I laughed a lot when the daughter, idly watching TV in her apartment, picks up the phone and tells her mother that she is much too busy working to talk.

When I was younger and heard from friends about one or another lesbian couple breaking up, occasionally the “reason” given was that one of them “got scared.” That was all that was needed to be said. One of them didn’t want to live her life as a lesbian so she “left for a man” or sometimes just the hope of finding a man. This story was a ubiquitous one in lesbian life and I suspect it is still there, however open and liberated we may be now.

I’ve known many women who eschewed happiness because of their fear, compromised their integrity in favor of conventionality. For sure, there is a price to be paid for living a life on the fringe. It’s just that, at the end of the day, there are prices to be paid for all of our choices. Axun made a choice once and now can make another or the same one again.

Axun’s husband uses some well-worn masculine techniques to keep his wife, but who can blame him? He needs her and they’ve been together a long time. It’s complicated. Maite is direct in her desires and her intentions. She’s an artist and perhaps a maverick and certainly knows how to enjoy life. But she needs love as much as anyone else and her desire for the plain Axun makes that clear. The story is textured and subtle in many ways, even as it is melancholy. Many of us know this story well, but seeing it in the movies for everyone to see is really nice.

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