Girlfriends and Girlfriends - Zaida Carmona
Credit: Mubi
by Sarah Williams Featured Film Streaming Scene

Girlfriends and Girlfriends — Zaida Carmona

July 19, 2023

“Girlfriend” — whether the companionship implied  is defined via romantic means, as a partnership, or via an external projection of friendship, the term is more often mistaken for whichever suggests a bond closer to heterosexual “normalcy.” Between girlfriends, the line between the two meanings can grow thin, stretching to encompass different forms of affection. Such is the conceit of Spanish director Zaida Carmona’s debut feature. Carmona’s character, named after herself, must re-learn how to navigate friendships with her girlfriends — present and former, friends and lovers — after a breakup. In this queer reinvention of Éric Rohmer’s Boyfriends and Girlfriends, she explores the different facets of relationships, from flat-sitting for a stable couple with kids to entering the social network her friend Rocío (Rocío Saiz) has built.

Cinema-goer friend Lara (Alba Cros, who shot the film) openly remarks to Zaida about the Rohmerian nature of their predicament. This isn’t to say the film has queered Rohmer; there’s nothing different in the structure of these loosely-tied summer flings that hasn’t been already done in a lighter Rohmer picture, with all couples limited to male-female pairings within the web of lovers. The lines between the relationships — at what point in the intensity of the individual romances, with the web of five or six on-and-off lovers, do they merge into a collective; or do they get to linger as they are? — aren’t drawn, beyond some ground rules Zaida is beginning to unlearn. She acts on her desire for Lara, who is new to her relationship with Rocío, who is having an affair with Julia (Thaïs Cuadreny), who just broke up with Aroa (Aroa Elvira). To close the circle, Lara and Rocío try to set Aroa and Zaida up, with some success. This ever-shifting web of girlfriends is a symbol of queer unity, of building a community beyond black-and-white statuses. But more than that, it’s a fact of life. As she kisses her way through Barcelona’s lesbian art scene, a book from a past lover on polyamory acts as a guide for Zaida. More accurately,  this book is a set of rules to discard while learning the pace at which relationships can run, like the speed of dialogue layering so quickly that subtitles give out (an effect here that, if intentional, offers a sublime analogy).

Unabashedly slight, it becomes increasingly difficult in the film to discern fact from fiction in these characters’ lives. Zaida, Lara, Rocío, and the others bear resemblance beyond their namesakes to the faces behind them. Zaida, for instance, is an aspiring filmmaker, not quite artistically ready and in the purgatorial state of reentering the dating world. Indeed, the thinning line between acting and life itself is often found within the territory of low-budget filmmaking. Some flat or odd-sounding sections do significantly decrease the technical competence of the finished product, but the use of the cast members’ own music does polish this up quite a bit: French New Wave-inspired tracks by indie musicians Julie Et Joe and Band À Part are among the highlights of a bright (and fittingly twee) soundtrack.

Girlfriends and Girlfriends doesn’t exactly invent anything new by fictionalizing the actors’ queer day-to-day lives and interactions to portray a section of young society. It’s not even the only Spanish-language indie to do so this year (Ruth Caudeli’s Petit Mal went for more artistic experimentation than it could handle, and ultimately felt lost in it). Where it does succeed in Rohmerian pastiche is where the reality behind the characters pays tribute to the friends who made it. Film is a collective act; an art that finds us reinventing experiences before we become conscious of the process, and nothing is more collective than the joy of reinventing your own lives into ones you want to see projected on a screen.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 28.