Spanish director Isabel Coixet has returned with “Un Amor,” a film that promises to rekindle her reputation as a filmmaker unafraid to explore the complexities of adult sexual relationships and the societal expectations placed on single women. Adapted from Sara Mesa’s Spanish-language bestseller, the movie takes viewers on a gripping journey that stands as a powerful testament to Coixet’s evolution as a feminist filmmaker.
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“Un Amor” made its premiere in the main competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival, where it drew attention for its unapologetic exploration of gender politics and the candid examination of sex as a form of social currency. While not a typical crowd-pleaser, the film has garnered significant interest, thanks in large part to the combined talents of Laia Costa and the popularity of its source material.
At the heart of “Un Amor” lies the mesmerizing performance of Laia Costa, who portrays the character of Nat, a young woman ensnared in a web of social and sexual exploitation by the rural patriarchy. Costa’s portrayal of Nat is nothing short of exceptional, imbuing the character with vulnerability, determination, and a touch of wry humor, preventing the film from plunging into somber depths.
The film takes an unexpected turn by opening with vérité-style interview footage of a Sudanese refugee recounting her arduous journey to Europe. This seemingly disjointed beginning gradually weaves itself into the narrative, shedding light on Nat’s decision to leave her urban life behind and relocate to a remote settlement in Spain’s northern Aínsa-Sobrarbe region.
This new chapter in Nat’s life is far from idyllic. The village she settles in is a stark contrast to the picturesque landscapes often associated with rural living, with gray, unphotogenic surroundings and perpetually overcast skies. Her rented house is barely habitable, and her landlord, portrayed with menacing brilliance by Luis Bermejo, embodies a disturbing blend of sexism and psychosis.
Nat’s integration into the tight-knit, suspicious community is fraught with challenges, and only her neighbor Piter, played by Hugo Silva, extends a friendly hand—albeit with an unsettling undercurrent of guilt-tripping. However, it’s Andreas (Hovik Keuchkerian), a burly, taciturn handyman referred to as “the German” by the locals, who takes a more direct approach. He proposes a shocking arrangement: home repairs in exchange for sexual favors.
What begins as a bewildering transaction soon transforms into a passionate affair that reshapes Nat’s precarious social standing in the village. As her dependence on the arrangement grows, “Un Amor” delves into the intricate dynamics of desire, vulnerability, and power.
While the film maintains a restrained tone throughout, there is a climactic burst of emotion when Nat engages in a wild, free-form dance—an expressive moment in an otherwise rigorously told story. Coixet and co-scripter Laura Ferrero’s narrative, behind the deceptively simple title, explores the multifaceted concept of love—both for oneself and for others—and the ways it can either nurture or destroy.
“Un Amor” has already garnered attention at San Sebastián, and its compelling exploration of complex themes ensures it will find its place on the arthouse circuit. Viewers are left with a thought-provoking and nuanced film experience that lingers long after the credits roll, thanks to the masterful direction of Isabel Coixet and the unforgettable performance of Laia Costa. “Un Amor” invites post-screening discussions about the moral complexities and motivations of its characters, particularly Nat, whose journey serves as a mirror to a society grappling with exploitation and desire.
As “Un Amor” continues its festival journey and eventual arthouse release, it stands as a testament to the power of cinema to provoke conversation and challenge societal norms. Isabel Coixet’s darkly complex tale is a thought-provoking addition to her body of work, and Laia Costa’s performance shines as a beacon in a narrative fraught with shadows.