With the theme of the Spanish Transition at the heart of this year’s festival, the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival have curated a programme that traces Spain’s journey to democracy, acknowledging the various battles fought by various groups as they sought better representation and rights. In Sílvia Munt’s In the Company of Women (Las buenas compañías), women’s fight for bodily autonomy is the focus of this understated and powerfully poignant directorial debut.
Set in 1977, when abortion was still illegal in Spain (it was not legalised until 1986), In the Company of Women centres on Bea (Alícia Falcó), a working-class adolescent living with her mother (Itziar Ituño) in Errenteria, a Basque coastal village. Frustrated by the systemic gendered violence she has both seen and lived in her community, Bea is a member of a group of young activists protesting against a society that fails to protect women, instead taking matters into their own hands. And as two people closest to Bea find themselves in need of help, Bea realises the importance of solidarity among all women, of each generation.
The political undercurrent of the film – reflected in radio debates on abortion and references to Las 11 de Basauri, a group of women incarcerated for facilitating illicit abortions in the Basque Country – effectively complements the personal struggles of the women onscreen. Through Bea’s relationship with her mother, Feli, we also see signs of an intergenerational conflict between women; both who are ultimately fighting the same fight but are divided by fear and experience.
Where the film’s power really lies, though, is in what is left unsaid. While the theme of abortion is at the centre of the narrative, interwoven into the narrative are matters of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual identity, and prisoners’ fight for political amnesty – the focus of Alberto Rodríguez Librero’s Prison 77. It is the silent fury of the characters that not only keeps you gripped throughout but leaves you with the same dread that the characters are experience.
As Bea, Falcó steals the show with her moving performance, capturing her audience with her penetrating stare into the camera lens. Often silent or restrained in her emotions, Falcó encapsulates a young woman hardened by the social injustice she has witnessed and unwilling to show anyone her vulnerable side. It is through her budding relationship with Miren (Elena Tarrats) that the film’s coming-of-age aspect comes to the fore, with Bea learning more about the world and about herself.
Through beautiful cinematography, naturalistic dialogue, and a stellar cast of women, Munt handles a myriad of difficult topics with sensitivity and without melodrama. As women around the world see their rights to control their own bodies become threatened once again, In the Company of Women is a sobering reminder of how hard women fought for these rights, and how easily they can be taken away.
Screened as part of Edinburgh International Spanish Film Festival