Everything but the Groom. Interview with Iciar Bollain, director Rosa’s Wedding



By © Jane Freebury

Tempestuous quarrels and family disagreements aside, there is plenty of kissing and hugging in Rosa’s Wedding, a popular new Spanish comedy from Iciar Bollain. The  filmmaker thinks its success at the local box office had something to do with a nostalgia, especially among demonstrative Latin people like her, for a time when the simplest gestures were unproblematic.

Rosa’s Wedding arrived in Spanish theatres during the pandemic but it achieved solid box office, and plentiful Spanish-language film awards and nominations.

Via Zoom from her home in Scotland, Bollain tells me that the film has recently been doing well in the chillier northern European countries like Germany and Austria. “I think we all need a laugh.”

Constantly at the service of others at work and at home, the film’s lead character Rosa (an engaging Candela Pena), on the cusp of 45, has realised that she still hasn’t lived her life. She decides to strike out on her own, to hit ‘the nuclear button’, leave it all behind, return to her seaside hometown and open her own business.

Many women, especially wives, mothers and carers would easily relate to her Rosa. In her daydream in the opening scenes, she is running a marathon that never stops. She keeps running past the finish life, on and on, until she collapses exhausted on an empty block of land. What looks like her ultimate destination, a city of gleaming towers forever out of reach, stands in the distance.

As Rosa’s world opens to us, it’s apparent she is many things to many people. A woman’s work is never done. Looking after the nephews, dealing with elderly parents, watering the plants while a relative is away. Generally filling in the gaps, or picking up the loose ends, as we might say.

Just ask a busy person if you want something done. Is there an equivalent in Spanish for this English expression? “It’s a great saying, but no, I don’t think so. The point is so recognisable. There are so many Rosas. There is always a Rosa around who takes on everything, even at work. There is always someone, usually female.”

Rosa’s daughter, Lidia (Paula Usero), holds the bouquet. Image courtesy Palace Films

So, in Spain expectations are always high that someone will take up the slack, as we say? In the absence of strong social security systems in Spain, that’s the way it is. “It’s a very feminine task, the caring, even in the UK where I live.” Bollain is married to Paul Laverty, the regular screenwriter for English filmmaker Ken Loach. The couple live in Edinburgh with their three children.

She won a Goya award with the Rosa’s Wedding co-writer Alicia Luna, for their screenplay of Take My Eyes in 2003. That film was an exploration of an abusive marriage partnership, showing why it’s so difficult to break the cycle of violence. “It was about the mechanics of the relationship. Obviously, the film was with the victim but the husband wasn’t just a ‘baddie’. I think that was surprising for audiences.”

“I thought it was a great premise. A funny and bonkers idea. Subverting the idea of marrying someone and marrying yourself”

“I wasn’t interested in the psychopath, but in the common man who is frightened of the world and has to have a sense of power. So, he was also a victim, of his own violence. Obviously, he was a very unhappy man. The film made a lot of noise. And it hasn’t dated. It is so unfortunate.”

It’s great seeing how young men are these days, so much more involved in the care of small children.  “It’s funny because I think they are discovering that there’s a lot of beauty in all that,” Bollain responds. “It’s heavy going and it’s unrelenting but there are lots of lovely things about it that they were missing. It’s a matter of justice (that they are involved) but it’s also a matter of sharing something which is very beautiful.”

What prompted writing the screenplay for your latest film, Rosa’s Wedding?

“I saw this article in The Guardian with the headline, ‘Everything but the Groom’. It was all about this kind of trend, about lots of women who marry themselves. They do it privately, they do it publicly, they marry in groups, and it’s all over the world.”

Some celebrities have declared themselves self-partnered as a defiant way of rejecting conventional gender stereotypes

“I thought it was a great premise. A funny and bonkers idea. Subverting the idea of marrying someone and marrying yourself! Having a laugh at the patriarchy.”

Self-connection rituals and solo weddings have been in reported in the media from time to time. Some celebrities have declared themselves self-partnered as a defiant way of rejecting conventional gender stereotypes.

Rosa’s Wedding is about self-esteem,” Bollain continues. “About setting the boundaries, setting the limits with other people, the mechanics within families. And this lack of self-esteem that women seem to have been born with. “We have lots of attitudes that you have to fight against, lots of inertias. Like Rosa. Taking on things that we don’t want to take on but it’s what is expected of us.”

So, like a deconstruction of the idea that you need to have a partner to have significance in society?

“It’s not saying you don’t need a man. It’s says I want to take care of myself before I take care of you…It’s about being able to have a healthy relationship with everybody. In a couple you need to first love yourself.” A kind of self-love, a love of self that is entirely acceptable? “Yes.”

Why is the average Spanish family now smaller than in the past, and with more women opting not to have children?

“Nearly half of Spanish people aged between 20 and 30 are unemployed and they are the last to leave home, because they can’t afford to. Jobs are precarious, housing is out of reach. It’s not because we don’t like children, it’s because there is no government help. I have three and I’m a Martian. That’s very rare, very rare.”

“Fitting in between two cultures is so interesting because you don’t fit in any. You don’t fit in any now. Because I’ve been eight years in the UK, I find people in Spain loud, rough, and rude and when I go home (to Scotland) I find people flat, and boring!”

And in Spain you don’t queue, right?” Yes, and in Spain we don’t listen.” I’d read that Bollain had told her actors, except for Candela, to all talk at once, to talk over each other.

“Rosa doesn’t speak her mind. So to make that believable we had to have very pushy people around her. It’s a little bit of a caricature. A little bit tuned up.” But at least it may make audiences listen.

First published in the Canberra Times on 24 July 2021