Having her film, Creatura, showing as part of Directors’ Fortnight (Quinzaine Des Cineastes) at Cannes Film Festival is something of a triple whammy for Barcelona-born and based Elena Martin Gimeno. She not only wrote and directed the film, which explores female sexual relationships with a focus on the female gaze, but also starred in it. While writing, she had other faces in mind to play her protagonist, Mila, but eventually chose to step into the role herself.
“Since my character explores with the body—and in the script there was a lot of physical exposition from my character—since I come from experimental theatre, I was used to this,” Gimeno explains. “I decided it would be interesting to feel the character in my own body.”
Working in front of the camera is nothing new for her—she’s probably best known for her acting in television and film. But while Creatura, showing in Director’s Fortnight, is Gimeno’s first film to screen at the renowned French Riviera-based festival, she is a seasoned writer and director. In 2017, she wrote and directed Julia ist, then completed At Home in 2020.
Like Julia ist, Creatura took years to grow from the seed of an idea into a full script. Gimeno started working on the script more than five years ago after directing her first feature, which premiered when she was just 24.
“After that, I received proposals to work in film and television,” she says. “I was writing the script along with Clara Roquet for Creatura parallel to doing all these other things.”
An intimate story of a woman’s self-discovery
It’s not a plot-based film, Gimeno emphasizes during our call. Rather, it’s about sexual discovery and what women experience in the moment. How we reflect on childhood or teenage experiences as adults is so personal, she says, and yet there are commonalities we can relate to—whatever our sexuality, nationality or religion may be. Before embarking on production, she researched sexual development. The goal was to find the right structure before filming began.
With Spanish and American producers on board, Creatura was filmed in Barcelona between August and September last year. The speed of filming didn’t dampen the movie’s impact or seriousness, however. The themes explored in the film are delicate in nature and not often discussed.
“It’s a movie that portrays the sex life or the desire of a woman, through three different key moments: ages five, fifteen and thirty,” she says. “Many of these experiences are relatable, some in a comfortable way and others less so, but also in a healing way. We are talking about small repressions that many people feel.”
Gimeno decided not to portray a singular narrative in a clear-cut, chronological style as she thought that might prevent viewers from recognizing their own experiences—lived and observed—in Mila.
“I want to know how women and LGBTQI-identifying audiences have lived their desire,” she says. “Cannes is a window through which to do that. One of the women on the selection committee revealed that she felt very moved by the movie and that it articulated things she hadn’t put into words before. That feedback made me cry.”
The film begins with the story of adult Mila, aged 30, before traveling back to Mila at 15 and then at 5 years old. Creatura stars Mila Borras, Claudia Dalmau and Gimeno as protagonist Mila at three points in her life. Members of Mila’s family are likewise played by different actors during the different stages of her development.
The most difficult role to cast was 5-year-old Mila. Gimeno put out the call in November and closed casting in May or June. Borras’ audition video was initially put aside because her curly blond hair didn’t match Gimeno’s own look, but her embodiment of the character and her older-than-her-years professionalism won her the role.
“I spoke to her as a child at first, but she didn’t seem comfortable so I started speaking to her as a professional actress,” recalls Gimeno. “Parts of the movie are very much directed through games, and she’d improvise to the script. Her mother and her father are actors and good parents, and the movie is very tender and respectful..”
Fifteen-year-old Mila was easier to cast, though the industry restrictions required the production to extend filming to accommodate the teenage actor. Dalmau could only legally work for a few hours each day.
“This is her first acting job; she’s a classically trained dancer, a ballet dancer,” Gimeno says. “We made it a very safe space for the shoot, with a lot of women on the team and on set. We were checking on her the whole time.”
Creatura at Cannes
Gimeno has considered the many contrasting reactions Creatura might elicit in viewers, but she hopes that the film will draw threads between individuals and her fictional characters.
“I think it’s a different experience if you are a father or a woman or a mother,” she muses. “I hope that after viewing the film, people feel compassion for themselves. I’ve been thinking about how I wish women would get to the end of this movie and feel understood and feel a tenderness towards themselves; that after watching you understand yourself a little bit more.”
The title Creatura comes from the Catalan language and culture, where children are often referred to as ‘creaturas.’ Gimeno was inspired by the term and its relationship to creation: “kids are a result of their parents, somehow,” she says, explaining she chose the title because the film explores what is passed down culturally and the little wounds we inherit from one generation to the next.
As far as it screening at Cannes, she calls the experience “crazy.”
“We found out a few days before the press conference announcing the selected films,” she says. “I was nervous before that, but I was confident—not about being selected at Cannes—but that the movie can reach so many people from so many cultural backgrounds.”