Review: Southern Brides (2024)

Courtesy of Semaine de la Critique

From the first baby doll and plastic kitchen found under the christmas tree, many little girls are still trained to embrace the role of future mothers and home-carers. It’s an inherited order of things that was barely questioned until the turn of the century, if we measure the world through the western perspective. Although it sometimes seem that things are moving backwards considering the growing popularity of conservative parties, plenty has changed when it comes to marriage (and entering it as virgin), love, and sex. Outside of our bubble in other corners of the world, girls are still expected to be what they were since the measurement of time: humble, well behaved, not ambitious, and foremost – growing to become the picture-book wives and mothers, like it was the case with our mothers and grandmothers, until very recently. “Oh, but the times have changed”, I can almost hear you say. In a way they did, but not completely. Every time we think how we are ages past the inbred expectations of women, there is someone exclaiming the same old words: “Every girl’s dream is to get married one day.”

Marriage and children still belong to the catalogue of expectations, particularly the latter. Are we ‘complete’ without the offspring?

In her mid-lenght short documentary Southern Brides that has its world premiere in Semaine de la Critique’s Special Screening segment, Spanish helmer Elena López Riera sat down with four elderly women to listen to their personal stories about love, marriage and sex, something that none of them talked much about before. The director questions her own identity of an unmarried woman with no children who ends a long line of mother-daughter relationships.

“What are the brides without a groom like? What are the mothers without children like? Who, after me, will go through that fear again?” Riera wonders delivers cinematic answers to her own questions though the home videos of brides, swallowed by darkness or led to the altar by male fantoms. Men are either cut off from the wedding photographs or shown from semi-profiles, as faces appearing from the background or dark contours. “A woman doesn’t need a man”, concludes an elderly lady who admits of having experienced 30 long years of loveless marriage.

The liberating power of old age, and trauma lived in the prime time of womanhood is something that Urška Djukić has previously addressed in her powerful, multiple-awarded animation Granny’s Sex Life (2022), based on the anonymous testimonials gathered in Milena Miklavčič’s book “Don’t Play With Fire, Ass, and Snakes”. On the other hand, the two films do not only differ in technique, one being a ‘classical’ type of documentary and the other an animation. While Djukić uses voices of women whose faces are hidden behind the drawings, Elena López Riera aimes her camera at faces never expanding the gaze below torzos. Their gestures, and direct eye contact with the lense become central for the story build-up, creating an emotional proximity to the subjects.

“Getting in bed with him was my worst nightmare, I’d break down in tears” admits one of the women when asked about her ex husband. “I couldn’t be a slave my whole life for someone I didn’t love” she concludes. There is lot of tenderness in Riera’s documentary approach, and in the way she is exploring the questions surrounding the invisible power of patriarhy. It is a captivating, inspiring watch.

Original Title: Las Novias del Sur
Country: Spain, Switzerland
Language: Spanish
Year: 2024
Runtime: 40′
Written/ Directed by: Elena López Riera
Cinematography: Elena López Riera, Alba Cros, Agnès Piqué
Production: Alina Film (Switzerland), Suica Film (Spain)
Sound: Elena López Riera
Editing: Ariadna Ribas, Anna Pfaff