Credit: Cannes Film Festival
by Jesse Catherine Webber Featured Film

Creatura — Elena Martín [Cannes ’23 Review]

June 3, 2023

Elena Martín Gimeno is the director, co-writer, and star of Creatura, a somewhat oddly titled film. When Mila (Gimeno) and her partner find themselves unable to have sex during a period of stay at Mila’s childhood home, the situation leads to the couple’s estrangement. Mila then develops a rash, exacerbating issues of physical intimacy, while her partner is unwilling to address the underlying emotional problems of the relationship. Throughout Creatura, Mila flashes back to various points in her childhood, and we witness a similar pattern of shame and physical reaction as that taking place between her and her partner now. Often we see men, sometimes Mila’s own father, express their discomfort with Mila’s sexuality, followed by her developing a rash. Given the title of this work, and the plethora of horror tropes that have been used to articulate struggles of female sexuality throughout film history, a viewer may expect something similar to take shape here. And there are indeed a few motifs in Creatura that hint at various familiar mythologies: in the throes of passion, Mila sometimes bites the neck of her partner; she not only lives near the sea, but also often seems drawn to the water in other ways as well. Ultimately, though Gimeno’s film is simpler than that: it’s about a woman who breaks out into hives, quite literally, when she is unable to fully express or explore her sexuality.

That virtually implied misdirection becomes a bit of a double-edged sword for Creatura. On one hand, Gimeno’s teasing of vague genre gestures can become frustrating; on the other, this film’s subtlety does feel welcome. By keeping the physical manifestation of Mila’s sexual frustration grounded, more emphasis is placed on her mental state — because one isn’t distracted by thinking about how the rashes are hinting at something more mysterious. It’s unfortunate, then, that there isn’t more propping all of this up. The actors who play Mila as a child are generally winning and impetuous, but Gimeno’s interpretation comes off as more impassive. Though it’s clear she’s unable to talk about her sexuality because she wasn’t given the tools to do so as a child, it’s less interesting to watch her flail around as an adult than it is to watch her youthful attempts at opening up. Not only do these patterns of inhibition from childhood persist, but she also seems less equipped to deal with them in adulthood. Similarly, while the film is perfectly handsome with its gliding camera and compositions of beautiful beaches, its overarching visual design, much like Gimeno’s performance, is too flat to enhance its themes or clarify discursive import of its flashbacks.

On the other end of the spectrum, Gimeno’s presentation of Mila’s relationship with her parents is the film’s high point. Both actors playing her father Gerard convey this man’s struggles differentiating affection from inappropriate intimacy, which Mila more explicitly confronts with him as an adult. His attempt at healing toward the end of the film is moving in its clumsiness, and it’s also during this stretch that Mila begins to renew her relationship with her mother. It becomes clear that some of her memories of her mother may have been incomplete, and a bid toward healing is seen in Mila allowing only her mother to physically help alleviate her rashes.

Though Creatura is a film about discomfort with sex, it is not itself uncomfortable with it. Its sex scenes — including a fairly lengthy one in which the conflict between Mila and her partner first surfaces — are shot frankly, and the portrayals of childhood and adolescent sexuality are equally unabashed. It’s a relief, even without considering recent discourse on the necessity of sex scenes, to see a film in which sex can be uncomfortable without being violent, and that room is left for tenderness even in confusion.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 22.