(Spain 2019; Dir: Irene Moray)

Suc de síndria

demystify female pleasure

review by Niels Putman

Suc de síndria

length: 22

year of production: 2019

country of production: Spain

director: Irene Moray

production: Distinto Films

director of photography: Irene Moray

editing: Ana Pfaff

sound: Xavi Saucedo

music: Nico Roig

cast: Elena Martín, Max Grosse Majench

festivals: Berlinale Shorts 2019, IndieLisboa 2019, Encounters 2019, TIFF 2019, Film Fest Gent 2019, Leuven Short Film Festival 2019, Short Waves Festival 2020, Wiz-Art 2020

© images: Irene Moray (Suc de sindria)

The now Goya-winning, EFA-nominated short on a young woman rekindling her sexuality after she has been mistreated in the past, is a sensitive, intimate but also uplifting drama on female sexual pleasure and strength.

Spanish director Irene Moray’s ‘Suc de síndria’ (‘Watermelon Juice’) has been a real hit on the festival circuit for almost two years. The now Goya-winning, EFA-nominated short on a young woman rekindling her sexuality after she has been mistreated in the past, is a sensitive, intimate but also uplifting drama on female sexual pleasure and strength. “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself”, to quote Hannah Gadsby in her Netflix one-woman-show ‘Nanette’ in which she also paints the difficulties of overcoming trauma.

Moray has found great collaborators in lead actors Elena Martín and Max Grosse Majench, who portray a couple in love that is rarely seen depicted so authentically on screen. Right from the start they exuberate a devoted relationship that feels compassionate and playful. We meet Barbara and Pol in bed, when making love during a hot summer holiday trip in Catalonia. The tenderness and consent of the lovemaking doesn’t go unnoticed: when she asks to stop, he listens. Only later these demands echo twice as hard, when we find out she has in fact been sexually harassed before — a traumatic moment in time when her plea to stop wasn’t heard.

As we follow Barbara’s path to gain back her power to the highest form of sexual pleasure that was once brutally taken from her, Moray never falls in the trap of clichés of victimization. Instead she approaches the main character and her healing process with a level of care that is admirable, and vital. When the topic of sexual harassment comes up during a dinner with friends, we feel both Barbara and Pol get tense. The energy shifts when she bravely speaks up, admitting she was once violated herself, to prove a point to one of her ignorant friends.

Following her confession she breaks down crying on the hostel bed: a wailing cry, showing that the mental scars are deeply rooted. The comfortable place of the bed is not an arbitrary choice here; it’s the same lieu where she later regains her forte. Her cry out of damage and frustration is juxtaposed beautifully at the end, during both her and the film’s climax. When she finally orgasms, tears of happiness and relief flow. It’s an empowering moment, introduced by an equally exciting foreplay scene by the lake, when a watermelon introduces a flirtatious, horny game of seduction. All initiated by Barbara herself, a woman reclaiming authority over her own body and desires.

Elena Martín’s performance stands out, as she brings all there is to give to her portrayal. On multiple occasions, we see her fully naked: skinny dipping, floating in the lake or undressing before her partner. Nudity is never a necessity for intimacy, nor it should be, but here it feeds the film with an extra sense of honesty and devotion that is so treasurable for the nature of the story.

Pol is there in all those defining moments: comforting her when crying, pleasuring only her (and not himself) until she comes. Their dynamic feels refreshing. He’s understanding, patient and supportive of her healing process; she is independent, goofy, strong. One could argue that the lack of nudity shown by him — he subtly covers his penis with his knee whenever it could be visible to the eye of the camera — therefore diminishes the beforementioned intimacy, as it clashes with the full frontal shots of her body and vagina. Whether this was per request of the actor involved, or a deliberate choice of Moray, the supposed prudery slightly imbalances the represented relationship.

Over the course of history, many words have been written on the mystification of the female orgasm. Moray here celebrates the peak of female sexual pleasure in ways that are poetic and vigorous at the same time. It is also an excellent example of how to demystify it, as the orgasm serves a dramatic goal for the character and climatic destiny of the story — an objective not only achievable, but also one that can mean, above all, many (great) things.

Moray’s instincts as a photographer lead her to visualize the affection of the relationship: the quasi-square 4:3 aspect ratio embraces close-ups and makes two-shots extra tight. The soft colors somewhat tone down the heat and sexual tension of Spanish summer, granting this romance a breath of fresh air.

After an impressive festival run that started in 2019 at Berlinale, the number of accolades now — many of them, rightfully so, for actress Martín — is impressive to say the least. More so because this kind of classic, narrative short film often gets snowed under exactly because of its classicality. Yet, Moray makes successfully creating an empathic short film look easy, though it is far from it. We care a lot for this woman and we are excited to see her revive, even though we only get twenty minutes to spend with her. The short’s worldwide success indicate the pure, heartfelt, affined skills of the filmmaking and the urgency of this delicate topic.