Catalan Director Isabel Coixet

This week I saw two films by Director Isabel Coixet (Coo-shet). I’d say she’s Spanish, however she was born in Barcelona and she’s a Catalana. As you probably know, Catalonia is part of Spain geographically, though it has a language and culture of its own. For the first 15 years of her life, under Dictator Franco, the regional language was forbidden. Now, the street names are not written in Spanish, but in Catalan. Many Catalunians want independence from Spain, however Isabel Coixet has gone on record saying she does not. She would like a future with fewer borders and fewer walls, as in the European Union.

Coixet began directing in 1988, although she made films throughout her childhood with the Super 8 camera she received as a first communion gift. Recently, my partner and I watched her film The Bookshop (2017). The next day, we saw Learning to Drive (2014). Although Coixet has directed for thirty years, these were the first two I’d seen. Considering how much I enjoyed her film making, I wish I’d discovered her decades ago! She gives viewers a well-developed sense of place and of the characters. There is a luminosity that goes beyond the extreme beauty of the locations and skill of the actors. The films burn through a range of human emotions that is lifelike and cathartic. Without revealing key plot twists, they do not have Hollywood endings, yet (or for that reason) they are genuine and satisfying. The Bookshop was set in the UK, Learning to Drive in the US; both of these films have English-speaking casts.

The Bookshop won Coixet the Goya Prize for best director (the Spanish Oscar). A widow uses her savings to start a bookstore in a town without one. It is set in East Anglia, the eastern coast of England, in the 1950s. Written and directed by Coixet; it’s based on the book by Penelope Fitzgerald. Reading, thinking, and a woman daring to live a dream in a small town are the main actions of the film. Four characters especially come alive; the widow Florence Green acted by Emily Mortimer, the young girl bookshop protégé, the cranky widower shut-in by Bill Nighy, and the local art patron by Patricia Clarkson. Widow Green has daring tastes, including works by Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov, which she shares by boy scout courier with the grumpy widower and a friendship ensues. There’s no a fairytale ending, but the story closes with a bookish seed planted for the future.
Directing genius: Watch for the reappearance of the scarf that Green abandons at the beach at the moment she makes her mind up to push forward with the shop. Catch it?

Learning to Drive won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie is set in New York City. Directed by Isabel Coixet, the screenplay is by Sarah Kernochan, and the story’s based on an article by Katha Pollitt about learning to drive at 52 years old. Plot: Wendy and Ted separate after two decades of marriage. Living in NYC, Wendy has never learned to drive, so she hires Darwan to teach her. This film shows what a great actress Patricia Clarkson (Wendy) is, contrasting her role in The Bookshop (forceful) with this story (fragile at first). Darwan is played by Sir Ben Kingsley, of Indian and English heritage, Krishna Pandit Bhanji was his birth name. The teacher schools Wendy in mastering her emotions while driving, she in turn shows him in how to connect with other people. This is an adult story about how we often do not let in the people closest to us. What happens when we do? I watched it twice in two days. It is one of the ten best films I’ve seen.
Directing genius: See how purchasing a car feels in the film.

Who is your favorite woman director? Who would you nominate to be the second woman director to win an Oscar?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Isabel Coixet Castillo, Catalan Film Director Photo: Lisbeth Salas
Rebecca Cuningham

12 thoughts on “Catalan Director Isabel Coixet

  1. Hello Rebecca and thank you for a great post and for bringing about aspects of our art and our culture. The Catalans are as Spanish as the rest of us. All of our communities have differences historically and culturally and most of us have our own language. We have the Valenciano language (although quite similar to Catalan), which I use many times to write on this blog, but we all speak the Castilian language and recognise it is the language of the Kingdom. The Catalans (and one of my grandfathers was Catalan) are and have always been Spaniards. I admire Catalans such as Coixet for standing up to the foolishness of seeking independence. Like she said and I agree, Europe is trying to unite and to think of independence is to think ridiculous thoughts, especially when the premise for such an outrageous act is flawed. Barcelona was the “Ciudad Condal” in other words, ruled by a Count, never an independent kingdom, much less nation. Valencia, on the other hand, was a kingdom, ruled by our King Jaume I and later we allowed ourselves to be brought into the greater Kingdom of Spain (unified). In any event, she is quite a fantastic film maker and very well respected in Spain. Have a great Friday, Rebecca and a great weekend!
    All the best, from Valencia,
    Francesc, written in Valenciano 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure Rebecca…although our Comunitat Valenciana was populated by many from Catalunya, we developed in different manners and we also have many Castilian-speaking people here that migrated here from Aragon and La Mancha…I am glad you are interested and appreciate that tremendously! All the best, Rebecca

        Liked by 1 person

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