1994, NR, 92 min. Directed by Marta Balletbó-Coll. Starring Marta Balletbó-Coll, Desi Del Valle, Montserrat Gausachs, Josep Maria Brugues, Sergi Schaaff, Joaquim Remolins Casas.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., May 24, 1996
Costa Brava (titled “family album” in English, is nothing if not a labor of love for its director and star Marta Balletbó-Coll. The first feature for Balletbó-Coll, Costa Brava tells a story that parallels many events in the director's own life. Indeed, the film's dedication to deceased friends and mentors of the director -- cinematographer Néstor Almendros and film scholar Gerald Mast -- pays homage to Balletbó-Coll's introduction to film. After making Harlequin Exterminator and Intrepidíssima, two short films that won numerous awards in gay and lesbian film festivals around the world, Balletbó-Coll based Costa Brava on the story of two women of differing temperaments and their individual struggles to come to terms with their careers and their relationship. Anna (Balletbó-Coll) is a Catalan actress/monologist working on a videotape of her one-woman show to send to a San Francisco-based theatre company (loosely based on Frameline, a gay/lesbian film distribution company that was instrumental in the director's career) in the hopes of having her show accepted. In her daily life, Anna works as a tour guide for Costa Brava Tours, wryly introducing tourists to the many natural wonders of Barcelona. Anna meets Jewish engineering professor Montserrat (Del Valle) on one of these tours, and through a series of awkward meetings the two women become lovers. Although their relationship brings happiness to their lives (“I'm so happy, I feel like a zombie”), their career frustrations and Montserrat's still-closeted lesbianism put it to the ultimate test. Costa Brava's narrative is less a story than a series of tableaus. Balletbó-Coll uses dialogue and music as motifs that underscore the snapshot scenes based on the characters' personal situations. Inviting on some levels, these tableaus inadvertently seem to fracture the development of Anna and Montserrat's relationship. The film's strongest moments are centered in Balletbó-Coll's role as Anna, performing her monologue “Love Thy Neighbor” as a kind of parallel commentary on the relationship between Anna and Montserrat. Costa Brava is, in many ways, typical of other gay and lesbian coming out/coming-of-age stories. This universality may have earned the film its two audience awards for Best Picture in 1995 in the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. However, it would be refreshing to see more films that portray the next step in gay and lesbian relationships -- the gritty “happily ever after” that we take for granted in cinema narratives about heterosexual couplings. Costa Brava is no different in ending before the juicy parts of “reality” intrude on Anna and Montserrat's relationship. Nevertheless, the wittily neurotic character of Anna and her ongoing monologue gives Costa Brava a loopy sweetness that compensates in part for a plodding story line.