Cannes 2023 Review: Elena Martín Gimeno’s “Creatura” Puts a Twist in Seeing Sexuality as a Beast

There is more darkness than light in the beach house Mila (Elena Martín Gimeno) and her husband Marcel (Oriol Pla) move into at the start of “Creatura,” in spite of the fresh start the couple imagines for themselves. They’ve relocated for his work, but he’s the one making more of an adjustment when they move back onto her parents’ property in the home she grew up in, a place where it seems the imprint she last left from sitting on the bed as a teen remains intact to this day. Mila wants to make memories in the house, eager to start a family with Marcel, but instead she seems trapped in them in the drama where as a writer/director in addition to star, Gimeno probes how one’s sexuality develops psychologically when she feels undesired in exactly the same spaces she once survived her torturous teenage years.

With co-writer Clara Roquet, whose collaborations with Carlos Marcet-Marques (“10,000 KM” and “The Days to Come”) have been bracing looks at relationships, full of frank conversations between couples who often are paralyzed by not knowing how to be the best partner they can for their significant other, Gimeno finds Mila and Marcel at such a standstill when he appears less interested in her than settling in at the job, reluctantly agreeing to christen the new house the night they move in, but still distracted when he’s on top of her. The feeling of rejection feels particularly cruel when Mila surely thought her days of insecurity ended when she met Marcel, with the film flashing back to when she was just as uncertain of what others thought of her as a 15-year-old (Claudia Dalmau), insatiably curious about her mounting hormones but only able to timidly approach local boys with her friend Aina. Whereas it might not be surprising that she masks the fact that she’s a virgin by mirroring the crude talk of the guys in their presence, Gimeno is less interested in this idea as a cover than how it comes to shape Mila’s way of thinking, coming to understand what she’s rewarded for and rebuked on and trying to find the lines of what’s acceptable rather than what would give her pleasure.

Although there might be the suggestion of some genre elements from the start from the film’s title and the initially shadowy palette that sets the scene, that’s just about the only place that Gimeno shies away from in “Creatura,” finding harrowing situations within Mila’s experience without ever resorting to full-blown horror. There may be a terrible rash that addles Mila well before she even hits puberty as the film zooms back even further to seeing some initial impressions as a five-year-old (Mila Borras), but in another trope Gimeno turns on its head, the idea of disfigurement occurs within rather than externally, attributed to stress but seemingly symptomatic of something a little less identifiable and what becomes scary is feeling as if she has no one to blame but herself for feeling the way she does. Reaching back further and further into time to get at the root of these issues, the film feels like the result of intense soul searching on the part of Gimeno, who you wouldn’t need to know is pulling double duty both behind and in front of the camera for the film to feel impossibly intimate and while “Creatura” arrives at a conclusion that might feel a bit too pat for all the unanswerable questions it raises, there is a galvanizing sense of liberation in simply being able to explore them as openly and honestly as the filmmaker does.

“Creatura” will screen at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Directors Fortnight on May 20th at 9 pm at the Theatre Croisette, May 21st at 10 am at the Cinema Le Raimu and 4:30 pm at the Cinema Alexandre III at 4:30 pm and May 25th at 9 pm at the Cinema Olympia.

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