Paula Cons (director)
24 September 2021 (released)
26 September 2021
This film is loosely based on a true story about a shipwreck off the island of Salvora part of the province of La Coruna coast of in 1921. It was sailing towards Argentina carrying around 260 passengers of which 48 survived saved by three women.
The island of Salvora’s inhabitants are little more than serfs paid a pittance by the marques (Javier Tolosa) and kept with their noses to the ground by shotgun carrying guard. The women toil with the men though it’s the men who go out to sea to fish for several days.
It’s on one of these occasions with all the men away, that the women realise a ship going aground on the rocks around the island in the middle of a storm. Maria (Nerea Barros), Cipriana (Ana Oca) and Josefa (Victoria Teijeiro) find a small boat and set out towards the ship to see if they can find survivors. It’s an appalling scene that they find with people screaming (this is all done by sound, we don’t see these people struggling for their lives) and them trying to keep people of the boat should they sink it.
They manage to come back with 48 people and are feted as heroines by the marques who takes them to the mainland to be feted by high society there. Where they are promised money and medals. However things back on the island are not so settled as there’s resentment that they have all the glory, plus an Argentinian journalist Leon (Darío Grandinetti) is suspicious that things aren’t quite what they seem.
Paula Cons directorial debut (co-written with Luis Marías) is an interesting if not totally gripping story as various strands are come into play as Leon picks his way through the various accounts and oddities about the disaster. Why are have the corpses on the beach had their fingers cut off and teeth pulled out, where there two lights on the night of the shipwreck to confuse the captain, and where is the overseer who was bullying Maria?
This all comes together very well as the three women start to fall out, as the trio themselves are almost shunned by the rest of the village. It’s beautifully shot with stunning landscapes of the island and the more intense rescue scenes featuring a terrifying sound design. The story is generally teased out by Grandietti as he pulls away the layers.
And it’s through his observations that Cons doesn’t shy away from presenting the destitution of the island inhabitants their squalor and poverty. Their lack of education and the shyness of the women are palpable on the mainland torn away from their secluded comfort zone.
Its an ignorance that acts as a comfort as Maria explains in a conversation with the local teacher and lighthouse warden Tomas (Aitor Luna) when he asks her why she stays on the island. She has everything she needs she says without any curiosity. But ignorance is not stupidity as Maria demonstrates as the pressures mount with the disclosures.
Barros as Maria is excellent as she works to keep her friends together, and the disdain of the village and the journalist at bay, her face hard throughout, her mind constantly churning.
Fundamentally this is a story of three women's extraordinary bravery that should be more celebrated but because of unsubstantiated rumours of foul play at the time it has been virtually forgotten.
Isle of Lies was presented at the London Spanish Film Festival which runs until 29 September.