The directorial debut of Angeles Hernandez and David Matamoros, Isaac is based on the Spanish stage play El día que nació Isaac by Antonio Hernandez Centeno. This queer-centric film addresses a number of societal issues and themes through imperfect characters.
I was provided with a free digital screener of Isaac for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Warning! This review of Isaac contains certain spoilers.
The premise of this film involved two childhood friends meeting each other years after they left high school. Nacho (Pepe Ocio) has become a successful lawyer. However, he and his wife are facing trouble getting pregnant. Denis (Ivan Sanchez), who works at a bar, is struggling to find funds to realize his dream of opening a restaurant in the US. Denis is quite quick to ask Nacho for a loan. Turns out, Nacho’s willing to give Denis a loan, but there’s a catch. The two men have decided to ask Denis’ wife Carmen (Erika Bleda) to act as a surrogate for Nacho and his wife Marta (Maria Ribera).
Such a complicated and messy arrangement isn’t helped by the fact that Denis and Nacho were sexually involved with each other during high school and unresolved feelings still exist between them.
Here’s the trailer!
The title Isaac actually refers to Denis and Nacho’s mutual high school friend of the same name. The narrative takes us through two timelines as the story unfolds, with the past adding more context to the decisions made by the two male leads, especially Nacho, in the present. Things spiraled for the three young friends when Denis, the protector of the group, left without saying goodbye. The bullying Isaac faced escalated and Nacho was unable to help him. Nacho grew up with a lot of guilt due to what happened to Isaac. He also had a ton of questions about Denis leaving.
With adult Nacho and Denis getting to spend more time together due to the surrogacy arrangement, a lot of emotions resurfaced. I liked how the narrative answered my questions about Denis and Nacho’s past. Nacho coming into his own and seeing Denis for who he actually was as a person was handled well, in my opinion.
A major theme in Isaac is about being true to yourself and not allowing others to dictate your life. Many of the problems that the characters faced could have been resolved by accepting what they really wanted in life. Marta’s continuously pressured to give birth to a family heir. And with adoption not being an option, she goes along with Nacho’s plan to have Carmen be the surrogate. Nacho’s experiencing his share of pressure from the family to become a father. The professionally successful married couple’s kept on being reminded that having children is what helps one be respected by society.
Denis just wants the money for his dream restaurant and he isn’t above pressuring Carmen to agree with the plan. The scene where he tried to convince Carmen to say yes didn’t sit well with me. You could tell her heart wasn’t in it, but she couldn’t say no because she’s in love with Denis. Marta going to meet Carmen alone to convince her further was another well-written scene. Carmen could have said no to everyone. But we all know saying no is harder than it sounds depending on the situation you’re in.
Even though Denis and Nacho came up with the deal, I liked how the narrative didn’t forget about their wives and took the time to focus on their emotions regarding the entire situation. Marta treating Carmen to a sweet little getaway was a welcome addition and helped flesh them out as characters.
In addition to dealing with the drama caused by Carmen’s pregnancy, we also get to learn about the problems already present in Marta and Nacho’s marriage. They aren’t happy staying married with each other and having a baby wasn’t going to change that.
There’s a sense of melancholy throughout Isaac. And I think that’s to be expected due to the narrative showcasing how denying what one wants leads to an unfulfilling life. Near the end of the film, every character has to make a choice that will impact their futures. While I do think some viewers might consider the conclusion to Nacho and Carmen’s journey to be a bit too unrealistic, I appreciated seeing both characters get their happy endings. I needed some positivity to be added to the story after what certain characters went through. I was also happy to see Marta standing up for herself.
I found Isaac to be an enjoyable queer-centric movie displaying the importance of prioritizing your wellbeing and letting go of the past. However, if I were to come up with some criticisms, I think Nacho’s final interaction with Denis could have been handled better. There was just a whole lot of information being shared during a single scene with a lot of telling and not enough showing. With the film also having scenes from the past, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a young Denis going through what an adult Denis was telling Nacho in the present.
Also, I’m a bit unsure about what the writers wanted to convey through Denis as a character. The toxic relationship of his parents did a number on him. But, as far as I could tell, he’s okay with the type of man he grew up to become? He’s okay with manipulating others to get what he wants? The way he treated a pregnant Carmen because he was able to get the money he needed earlier than agreed upon was just wow!
I just couldn’t make myself feel sorry for him. But then again, maybe that’s exactly what the writers wanted? It could be that Denis, as a character, is supposed to be an example of how going overboard with prioritizing your needs can lead one to damage the lives of other people. Hmmm.
Isaac has gone on to win numerous awards including Best Actor and Best Director at the Puerto Vallarta Festival, Special Jury Mention for Narrative Feature at OUTshine Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Feature Film at the Guadalajara International Film Festival.
Released on November 16, 2021, Isaac is currently available for you to view on iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Vimeo, and through local cable & satellite providers, and on DVD.
I recommend watching it if you’re in the mood for some emotionally heavy stuff.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.