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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 23, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 08
Catalan filmmaker to present story of Lesbian couple married by Catholic Church
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Catalan filmmaker to present story of Lesbian couple married by Catholic Church

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Renowned Catalan filmmaker Isabel Coixet will make a movie about Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas, a Lesbian couple married - unwittingly - by the Catholic Church in early 20th-century Spain.

Elisa, who used the name 'Mario' at her wedding, and Marcela met and fell in love while living in A Coruña, Galicia, a region in northwestern Spain.

Because of family concerns about their relationship, Marcela was packed off to Madrid by her mother. Separated by hundreds of miles, both women studied to be schoolteachers.

On graduation, they were assigned to schools just a few miles apart in rural Galicia, and Elisa was able to walk to Marcela's house every evening after classes.

At some point during this period, Marcela had sex with a man and became pregnant. The couple then decided to get married and raise the child as their own, and they hatched an elaborate plot to get a local priest to perform the ceremony.

First, they pretended that they had quarreled. Marcela announced that she was to marry Elisa's cousin. Elisa then began to pose as 'Mario,' a young man with family ties to A Coruña, but who said he'd been brought up in London by atheists.

Posing in short hair and a morning suit as Mario, Elisa was duly baptized by the local priest and married to Marcela on the same day.

The couple did not live happily ever after, however. Their wedding portrait was published on the front page of the local newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, with the sensational headline 'A wedding without a groom.'

The ensuing scandal made it impossible for Elisa and Marcela to make a living in Galicia, so they fled to Porto in Portugal, where Marcela gave birth to a daughter. Spanish authorities demanded their extradition, but the couple managed to escape to South America, settling in Buenos Aires in 1902.

At one point Elisa married a wealthy Danish man, but he soon divorced her. In 1909 a newspaper story from Veracruz, Mexico, reported Elisa had committed suicide.

Spanish historian Narciso de Gabriel wrote a book about the couple on which Coixet's film will be based.

'When I think about these two women and the courage it took for one of them to pretend to be a man, it was unbelievably brave,' Coixet told the BBC.

'I was fascinated the first time I heard about the story, which almost raised more questions than it has answers.

'We don't know what happened to them in the end, and how did they think they would get away with it?'

Inmaculada Mujika Flores, a sociologist, psychologist, and director of the Bilbao-based LGBT association Aldarte, said the film offered a rare opportunity to make Lesbian relationships more visible.

'If this story had been about two gay men, I'm sure it would be better known,' she says. 'We lesbians have virtually no role models in Spain among politicians, actresses, or artists.

'Even when there was repression under Franco, it was gay men who suffered, while we have always been invisible. Only when we started to protest in the 1980s did lesbians begin to exist in Spain.'

Mujika Flores says that the legal equality the LGBT community now enjoys in Spain helps to prevent the 'pain of being a non-person' experienced by Elisa and Marcela.

'But a law doesn't automatically flick a society's switch,' she warned. 'There are still people who keep their sexuality secret, and others who marry, for example, but feel they cannot take the statutory leave from work due to embarrassment or a fear of being fired.'

Coixet said her intentions are not political.

'It's true that there are very few stories about women in love. But this is not a manifesto,' she said. 'For me it's natural to write stories about women; then producers keep asking why.

'They never ask a male director why they want to make a film about Dunkirk. But I was asked, 'Why do you want to make a film about two women who got married in Galicia in 1901?'

'Come on, that's heroic, man!'

Coixet recently completed the film The Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Bill Nighy.

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