Cannes 2023 review: Creatura (Elena Martin Gimeno)

“Maybe Creatura is still a bit too cautious and structurally safe, and the filmmaking itself is not as adventurous and thought-provoking as the storytelling.”

Is the true nature of female sexuality something to be scared of and to run away from for most men? Men in Mila’s life definitely tend to do so. When she’s finally open to talk about some honest feelings with her father, or when her replacement-father, sorry, boyfriend feels threatened by her impulses, their reaction is the same: to run away and distance themselves. As if she is a monster, a strange creature. The only real, open dialogue will eventually happen with another woman, her mother, but Mila has a long way to go to realize that. She first has to solve some serious daddy issues before she can accept that the sea can heal anything.

Creatura, the Catalan-language Directors’ Fortnight title by Elena Martin Gimeno, aims to explore the sexual awakening of a woman and all the wounds this implies. The film’s structure is pretty straightforward. After her grandmother passed away, Mila and Marcel arrive at the summer house where the old woman lived for many years, and where Mila spent many summers with her family. Teenage years at summer homes represent the first sexual experiences for both boys and girls. So right after we are introduced to the troubled relationship between Mila and Marcel, a large flashback section walks us through her teenage years to understand why she is having a hard time making a real connection, and the meaning of the rashes that cover her whole body whenever she is sexually vulnerable and/or confused.

Teenage years can only scratch the surface. The formation of sexual identity lies in even earlier years for any human being. Therefore, the second half of the movie is another large flashback section to Mila’s childhood. The first images of bodily connection, their reflections on a small child, and the terrified reactions from grown-ups to even glimpses of a child’s sexuality all lead us to an answer. Mila’s sense of guilt and shame, involuntarily imposed on her over the years by her father, the first man any little girl falls in love with, paralyzes her current sexual and romantic life. The first step to overcome will be to simply face that.

All these themes, especially when involving scenes of a 5-year-old, make the story a pretty difficult ground to walk on. Martin Gimeno (also acting in the film as the adult Mila) knows where to cross the line, since cinema is (and should be, sure) as cautious as society is today when it comes to such delicate matters as discussed in the film, but still should try to find ways to be as provocative as possible. Because you cannot tell stories like Creatura puritanically, and you cannot expect filmmakers to shy away from exploring these real human conditions; if that is disturbing to some audiences maybe they also need to make an effort.

Maybe Creatura is still a bit too cautious and structurally safe, and the filmmaking itself is not as adventurous and thought-provoking as the storytelling. Most of the answers lead back only to the same old daddy issues, one could say, but what Martin Gimeno attempts here with this film is still bold and most importantly, honest.