Ficción, by Celestino Deleyto

Written by Celestino Deleyto. Posted in CCSBlog

A Fine Romance

Ficción (Cesc Gay, 2006)

By Celestino Deleyto

 

            In Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’s classic song ‘A Fine Romance’ from Swing Time (1936), Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers beautifully capture the frustration and sadness of a love that is shared but cannot be expressed. When she wants to, he won’t. When he is ready, she isn’t anymore. The ostensible artificiality of the evenly snowed-up setting turns the tension between proximity and separation into an abstract representation of the pains and pleasures of love, reinforcing the cultural myth of the atemporality of romantic feelings. Seventy years later, Gay’s latest film substitutes the mountains of the Catalan Pyrenees for the snow of the New Amsterdam and, more crucially, preserves the romantic convention while turning it into a matter of choice.

 

        While spending a few days with a friend in a small mountain village, Alex (Eduard Fernández), a 39-year old married man, meets Mónica (Montse Germán), who is also in a stable relationship in far-away Madrid and is about to adopt a child. During an excursion to a nearby lake, in the course of which they get conveniently lost, they feel attracted to each other. In the next few days, the relationship develops in a painfully reticent way (a late scene in a Puigcerdá bar transforms this reticence into cinematic mastery), to the more than probable disappointment of the spectator who goes to the cinema to see such relationships consummated. Mónica seems game but Alex resists, his fidelity to his wife standing in the middle of his desire and sexual curiosity. Lest the audience may accuse the writer-director of old-fashioned puritanism, Gay surrounds the central relationship with others, including a man in his late thirties having an affair with a 55-year-old married woman, a lesbian friend who appears to change partners regularly, and the decision of the heterosexual man and the lesbian woman to have a baby together based on their friendly affection, even though they don’t have any plans to live together. Yet it could be argued that, rather than contextualise the central relationship as one of many options, the relative unconventionality of the other attachments makes Alex’s defensiveness more glaring.

 

            Ficción, which is also about a film director looking for the inspiration for a future film about relationships in a contemporary mountain setting (that is, the same film that we are watching), presents itself as more realistic than the majority: in real life, there are people who, in the face of sexual temptation, decide to remain faithful and not to ‘ruin their lives’, even though they are aware that lost opportunities will be lost forever. The director says as much in the press-book and publicity interviews, while insisting, with a polemical intention, that the film is a love story. However, as is always the case with cultural texts, Ficción constructs a limited set of options as the only possible ones, erasing the possibility of other alternatives. For example, the film argues that the only way in which sexual attraction can be expressed is by falling in love, thus equating love and desire, against the evidence of both contemporary and not so contemporary sexual discourses and many modern men and women’s real experiences. Between a man and a woman there can only be love or chaste friendship and, since ‘love’ is a homogeneous concept that includes all forms of attraction and desire, it is incompatible with other loves. It might be argued that, this not being a Shakespearean comedy, Alex and Mónica have not really had time to fall in love yet in a way that would be threatening to their respective relationships with other partners, but the film suggests that sexual attraction automatically equals love.

 

           Perhaps Ficción does not tell us what to think or whether an option is better than another, but it certainly teaches us what love is, what desire is (love), what sexual curiosity is (love) and what unproblematic friendship is not (sex). Additionally, it gently demonises the apparent willingness of the woman, which is vaguely explained as part of a past tendency to promiscuity (and, therefore, unhappiness). Certainly, in the midst of present cultural discourses which increasingly celebrate the diversity of desire and sexual equality, this film is unusual, especially for a European ‘art film’. As Astaire and Rogers would put it, this is a fine romance. 

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