Women (1997)

“They’re lesbians. They’re all lesbians.”

Elles (AKA Women) explores the long-term relationships between 5 women who are all on the brink of turning 50. Coping with issues such as romance & sex, motherhood, loneliness, aging and death, the five women realize that the choices they make at 50 are different from the choices made decades ago.

The story is wrapped around anchorwoman Linda’s (Carmen Maura) quest to discover the secret wishes of her four closest friends. We realize–although Linda doesn’t–that her interest in the secret wishes of women is really an expression of her own doubt and internal conflict. Planning on creating a programme focusing on what women wish for, she interviews her friends, Eva (Miou Miou), Barbara (Marthe Keller), Branca (Guesch Patti) and Chloe (Marisa Berenson). Capturing the women’s secret wishes on camera, Linda reveals moments of vulnerability that don’t show on the surface of everyday life.

None of the five women are married, and while men aren’t exactly superfluous here, the film places its male characters of the periphery. Aging chanteuse Branca makes a career out of bedding men and adding another notch onto her belt. While she professes a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude, getting dumped at her age hurts her pride more than she anticipated, and in the meantime she ignores the mental problems endured by her troubled daughter.

Eva, who’s a widow, a professor and the mother of a small son, becomes embroiled in a steamy affair with one of her male students (who’s also Barbara’s son). While she’d love to suspend the almost triple-decade difference in age, can she? Should she?

Barbara is divorced from her optometrist husband. While he’s engaged in a relationship with a much younger woman, Barbara still wants him back. Martha Keller’s beautifully restrained performance steals the film, and the scene in which Barbara meets her husband’s new love interest was priceless.

Linda is very focused on her career, and long-time lover Gigi (Joaquim de Almeida) is forced to take a back seat–often with humiliating results. Eventually Linda is forced to make some painful choices.

The fifth woman in the group is Chloe, Linda’s make-up artist. She’s a quiet, solitary, self-contained woman with a haunted past.

Although this is a film built around the relationships between five women, the film’s main focus is the desires women have and how those desires sometimes conflict and must be suspended or replaced. One of the issues explored by the film is what happens when women step out of the roles ascribed to them by their family members–for example, when Barbara becomes ill, her illness is largely ignored by her children who want her to remain in the eternal mother role–untouched by disease or any personal problems of her own. In contrast to Barbara is Branca. She’s abdicated from her parental role, dumping her daughter onto her aging parents.

Women is not one of those awful ‘sisterhood’ films; it’s a much smarter film than that. Does sisterhood exist in the film? Absolutely, but these women don’t end up hugging each other and exchanging giggly naughty confidences. These five women ultimately have their own paths to follow and their own choices to make. Set in Lisbon, Women is a drama from Portuguese director Luis Galvao Teles.

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Filed under Carmen Maura, Portugal

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