A Classic Film Presents Life Dilemmas
by Rasha Hosny
In a time that lacks simplicity and a material world full of conflicts and complexities that cast a shadow on everything around us, comes the Spanish film Ramona (2022), the first feature film by the talented Andrea Bagney that premiered in the Proxima competition at the 56th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. At a time when a good number of directors around the world are turning to making films with a complex cinematic language and stories that fit into the complicated world around them, the film reminds us that it is still possible to create a cinematic experience with a simple story and a limited number of characters that is also interesting on both a narrative and a visual level.
The word ‘simple’ does not imply that it is a film with no content or one that doesn’t ask serious questions. On the contrary, the film presents an endless number of questions that one can consider existential. In addition, the film presents many of life’s dilemmas. It puts us in confrontation with life’s unlimited choices, which, of course, requires making unlimited decisions that can be considered fateful at times.
Instead ‘simple’ here means that despite what the idea of the film carries from a deep view of life and the important questions it poses, it is considered an accessible cinematic experience, as its director chose a classic cinematic style that perfectly matches the nature of the film’s plot and its characters, especially when it comes to the main protagonist, Ramona, and her personal and professional dreams and ambitions.
The film tells her story, a young woman in her thirties who lost her parents as a child in a tragic accident. For many years she’s been living away from her home country, perhaps in an attempt to forget the painful memory. However, then Ramona decides to return to Madrid to start a new life and a different career path. Indeed, she returns to live in a modest apartment in a building mostly populated by young, unruly drug dealers in a slum in Madrid. She shares the flat with her lover and future husband, Nico, who works as a chef in a humble restaurant. Ramona works as a nanny and translator, but she is preparing for an audition for a film that could be the start of her new career as an actress. In an effort to relieve stress ahead of the event, Ramona decides to spend the day before wandering the streets and avenues of Madrid, listening to music and enjoying the sun. While having a cup of coffee in a small café, she meets Bruno, an attractive man in his late thirties. She spends hours with him, talking about everything from anxiety and stress to war documentaries and recycling. Bruno tells her that he loves her, and when she tells him that she has a boyfriend, he simply asks her to leave the man and choose him instead. Ramona is horrified and leaves after telling him not to follow her. But when she goes to the awaited audition the next day, Ramona is surprised that the director of the film is no one else than Bruno.
In my point of view, what distinguishes the film is that the director chose to rely on a number of ordinary cinematic elements and choices here, which some might describe as repetitive, in order to present an unusual film or at least a film that has an unusual impact on an emotional and mental level. For example, the coincidence with which the events of the film begin. It’s a coincidence that has been repeated in dozens of romantic comedies before. However, what sets this film apart is the fact that the repetition is repeated and that, at the same time, is also a dramatic coincidence that relates to the protagonist’s inner questions about her life and her needs in life at the time: Her relationship with her partner, her desire for motherhood, her doubts about her desire to have a child, her doubts whether Nico is the right man to be the father of her child or, in fact, the right husband for her. Plus, there are her thoughts about Bruno, the lover who is willing to wait for her as long as it takes, but at the same time, she has nothing in common with him that they can do together except making films. Ramona’s emotional suffering is what prompts her to embark on a journey of search and discovery, a search for answers to her questions about life and a way of discovery for herself.
Another dramatic element that appears to be a repetition but is created and presented in an unusual way in the film is the love triangle. The love triangle is a recurring dramatic component in romantic comedies, but the characters of the love triangle in Ramona are what make the film special. Their distinction does not come from being superheroes, not even heroes by modern day standards, but quite the opposite. Their distinction comes from being real people who you can meet in the streets of Madrid, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires or even Cairo. Creating spontaneous and natural cinematic characters that attract the audience’s attention to follow them is very difficult, and Bagney succeeds in achieving it remarkably well.
Ramona is thirty years old, a real milestone for any women. Its the age between safe life choices and risk-taking in search of better opportunities. She is a woman who wants to live a simple life free of complications. She begins to search and track the white hair on her head. She is a woman with natural features who is not obsessed with plastic surgery and the unified eyebrows of millions of girls around the world. Ramona is a natural woman who is not an Instagram girl. She wants to be represented by her talent and her wit, not by the standards of social media and the number of followers.
Nico is the boyfriend who understands Ramona’s tense and anxious nature. He loves her, encourages and supports her even in moments when she doubts her love for him. He is not obnoxious. Bruno, on the other hand, is an ordinary man with no irresistible handsome qualities and supernatural attractiveness. All that distinguishes him is the way he loves and believes in Ramona and his dreamy vision of a relationship that brings them together. It’s what Ramona believes to be the main reason why it is impossible, because she does not see life, love, and their relationship together from the same perspective as the dreamer Bruno sees it.
Finally, Ramona is one of those films that manages to skillfully walk the fine line between the dreamy magical world of cinema and the reality and cruelty of life itself. While the audience shares Ramona’s feelings as she wanders the streets of Madrid, listening to the music of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, we also try to find the answers she is looking for. Answers to questions driven by men’s desire to feel happiness and the relentless search for it, in midst of a global atmosphere of tension, fear, anxiety and stress.
Ultimately, the beginning of the film may be repetitive and the ending predictable. However, at the same time, the cinematic and human journey in between is undoubtedly a journey loaded with an abundance of cinematic and emotional pleasure.
Edited by Pamela Jahn
© FIPRESCI 2022