Isabel Coixet’s Films Capture a Wide Range of Subjects Deeply

Five years ago today, The Bookshop (or La Librería) was released in theaters. A visually stunning and perfectly-acted historical drama, this film was written and directed by Isabel Coixet, who we will be celebrating today. 

Isabel Coixet is a Spanish filmmaker whose work has reached great success both in Spain and in the USA. Born near Barcelona in 1960, Isabel took an interest in filmmaking from an early age, when she was gifted an 8mm camera for her First Communion. She studied Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century History at Barcelona University, an interest which she would combine with filmmaking later down the line. Following university, Isabel worked in advertising, earning many accolades for her work with clients such as BMW, Renault, and Ikea. 

Isabel’s first feature was nominated for a Goya Award for Best New Director 

However, the world of advertising wasn’t fulfilling to Isabel so, in 1988, she wrote and directed her first feature: Demasiado Viejo Para Morir Joven (or Too Old to Die Young). The film, about two friends and their various adventures as a taxi driver and a messenger, was a success in Spain. Isabel was nominated for a Goya Award for Best New Director. 

In 2003, Isabel came out with the film that would put her name permanently on the map as an acclaimed director, both in Spain and in the US: Mi vida sin mí (My Life Without Me). Starring Sarah Polley, My Life Without Me is about a young woman attempting to live her life to the fullest extent after finding out she has ovarian cancer. In a review of the film, FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner said, “The story’s straight & simple –Polley’s a young mother dying of cancer — but the performances are remarkably deep (including wonderful cameos). It should be depressing, but to the contrary, somehow it glows with transcendent optimism.”

Isabel continued her artistic collaboration with Sarah Polley with The Secret Life of Words, another intimate drama. In this film, Sarah plays a hearing impaired factory worker who travels to an oil rig to care for a young man suffering from severe burns, all the while confronting her own past traumas. Of this film, Jan says, “Writer/director Coixet develops characters who are deeply engaging: we want to know their secrets & we’re shocked & sad when the answers eventually pour forth.”

In 2008, Isabel released Elegy, based on the novel The Dying Animal by Philip Roth. The film tells the story of critic, scholar, and public figure David Kepesh as he struggles with intimacy and love. Though originally a rather unsympathetic subject, the David that Isabel creates undergoes a truly moving journey and character arc. As Jan puts it in her review, “This man, David Kepesh, I know this man very well.  I’ve met his type many times, at many different points in my own life.  As a feminist, I hate him, and as a Jewish feminist, I actively despise him… and yet… and yet…  By the end of Elegy, I found myself crying real tears for this man, a man terrified by illness and death, a man so afraid of being alone that he runs from every offer of genuine intimacy.”

Isabel has also ventured into the world of documentaries.

Isabel has also ventured into the world of documentaries. Her part of Invisibles (a collection of short films), for example, is an emotional and profound film that sheds light on the heroic work of the Doctors Without Borders organization. She also released White Tide in 2012, about the recovery of the Galician coasts after the Prestige oil spill. 

Most recently, Isabel made Elisa y Marcela, which was released on Netflix in 2019. An intimate and touching film about the first registered same sex couple in Spain, this was the third original Spanish film by Netflix. 

In 2020, Isabel won the Nation Film Award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The films mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg for Isabel, from whom many stunning films have poured forth. She has a profound ability to portray stories both big and small, both personal and universal, both true and from her imagination. Isabel is and will continue to be one of the most inspiring filmmakers, in Spain and in the USA. 

And rumor has it, a new film–in collaboration with FF2 favorite Lone Scherfig–is due in the USA this Fall. As Rachel Maddow would say: “Watch this space.”

© Julia Lasker (8/24/2023) FF2 Media



Read Maiya Pascouche’s review of The Bookshop here.

Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of My Life Without Me here. 

Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of The Secret Life of Words here. 

Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Elegy here. 

Watch The Bookshop here. 

Watch My Life Without Me here. 

Watch The Secret Life of Words here. 

Watch Elisa & Marcela here.


Featured photo: “Isabel Coixet – La Librería” by Lisbeth Salas is used with permission mentioned on the Wikimedia Commons page.

Bottom photo: Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) unpacks books in her shop in the film THE BOOKSHOP (2017). Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment EPK. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Catalan, Doctors Without Borders, Elegy, Elisa & Marcela, Emily Mortimer, Invisibles, Isabel Coixet, Lone Scherfig, Philip Roth, Sarah Polley, Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports, Spanish Women Filmmakers, The Bookshop, The Secret Life of Words, Too Old to Die Young, White Tide

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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