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Isabel Coixet, known for her provocative filmmaking style, is making waves at the San Sebastian Film Festival with her latest drama, “Un Amor.” This captivating film stars Laia Costa (“Lullaby”) and Hovik Keuchkerian (“Money Heist”) and marks Coixet’s first entry into the festival’s main competition.
“Un Amor” is produced by Marisa Fernández Armenteros of Buenapinta Media (“The Mole Agent”), along with Sandra Hermida and Belén Atienza, the producers of “Society of the Snow,” working under Perdición Films. The film’s worldwide distribution is handled by Film Constellation (“Return to Reason”). The story is based on the novel of the same name by Sara Mesa, which was named Spain’s 2020 book of the year by El País. Coixet and Laura Ferrero (“Empty Pools”) co-wrote the screenplay.
The film’s protagonist, Nat, portrayed by Laia Costa, finds herself tormented by the hazards of her occupation and the chaotic pace of city life. Seeking a fresh start, she heads to the countryside town of La Escapa. Unburdened by a partner but accompanied by her wayward dog, Nat embraces her solitude, living on the outskirts of society, even though she inadvertently irks the town’s increasingly inhospitable residents.
Desiring more profound connections than superficial pleasantries, Nat’s journey leads her through a series of transformations and unraveling obsessions, sparked by an unexpected proposal from the brusque and imposing Andreas. This unrelenting fixation ensnares her, leaving her struggling to salvage her dignity.
Coixet explained, “Her tragedy isn’t being an outsider. Her tragedy is that, in a way, she wants to belong a little bit.” Coixet admitted to a deep connection with Nat, despite the character’s divisive nature and irrational actions, which have made her one of the most polarizing protagonists in contemporary Spanish literature.
“I have this absolute identification with Nat. In a way, it was so difficult to do justice to this character, and at the same time, easy because I’ve been there. I behaved like that, I felt all these things. I’ve felt this contradiction,” Coixet shared.
Nat’s idyllic vision of country living is shattered as she discovers that each corner of the countryside is laden with society’s skepticism toward a woman venturing out on her own. Coixet sheds light on the microaggressions women face daily, even in new environments, as they are questioned about their choices and constantly required to justify their lives.
“I wanted to portray that. I also wanted to show what happened with people, let’s say, with ‘normal lives.’ The woman who has two kids and implies you’re not as good as her because you don’t have kids, you don’t have a partner or your house is crumbling or dirty, or you have a dog and the dog looks strange. Yet, all of those set standards she represents have made the life of women miserable,” Coixet emphasized.
Laia Costa delivers an outstanding performance in this character study, navigating Nat’s journey from fierce independence through obsessive tendencies to a redemptive and defiant conclusion. Coixet expressed her admiration for Costa, saying, “I love Laia, we had a blast shooting my series, ‘Foodie Love.’ We’ve become friends, we’re very open with each other. Sometimes you get lazy as a director, because I’m sure there are a bunch of actresses who could play Nat, but Laia’s going to shine because she’s extraordinary. I’ve said I have a deep connection with Nat, but Laia is so opposite to that character yet she really understood her, became her.”
Costa and Hovik underwent a raw and vulnerable transformation for their roles, particularly during the film’s intimate scenes. Coixet credited open communication and attentiveness to the mood on set for creating authentic and unvarnished portrayals. She reflected on the impact of realistic intimacy on screen, citing Meryl Streep’s passionate portrayal in “Sophie’s Choice” as a prime example.
Coixet emphasized the importance of trust and collaboration between the director and actors during such scenes. She said, “I don’t like the idea of choreography because sex is clumsy, it’s dirty. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do, and we have to play with that too.”
“The representation of sex in our movie was key because what makes this something unique from other stories about sexual obsession is how this story begins, how the sex specifically acts as a token in a capitalistic system,” she continued.
“Un Amor” is an intriguing anti-romance that delves into the depths of brutal honesty and concealed malevolence, all masked by painted-on smiles and unsolicited advice. It explores the notion that a woman’s body is often seen as currency—something to be traded, bartered, or offered as payment—highlighting the fact that even the most self-sufficient individuals occasionally require connections and assistance.
The narrative revolves around the enigmatic intricacies of human relationships, uncovering the truths we leave unsaid and the hidden desires that shape our actions. It serves as a thought-provoking examination of love, belonging, and the fragility of the human mind, ultimately confronting the self-inflicted consequences of our transgressions.
Coixet concluded, “All this about being very comfortable in your skin and accepting yourself, what is this? I don’t accept myself. I’m not good in my skin, I’m not comfortable. Maybe the day I’m comfortable in my skin, I’ll die. I’d rather be uncomfortable. One of the things about films? They don’t have to be comfortable. They don’t have to be sweet. They have to challenge you. If there’s no challenge, there’s also no confrontation.”
Isabel Coixet’s “Un Amor” promises to be a challenging and thought-provoking addition to the world of cinema.