A lesbian in 1950s Chile didn’t have much hope of finding love and living a happy ending, but if anyone can do it, Bárbara Román of the telenovela “Perdona Nuestros Pecados” (“Forgive Our Sins”) can. “Perdona Nuestros Pecados” is not for everyone.
Like a true telenovela, there are boatloads of male tears, high aristocracy, blackmail, forbidden love affairs with a priest, and I’m pretty sure during the earthquake scene the cameraman just shook the camera, but for viewers who don’t mind a little melodrama, the show’s bright spot is “Barcedes,” the love story between Bárbara and Mercedes Möller.
Barcedes is at first told through the eyes of Mercedes, a sheltered only daughter who just never seemed to find Mr. Right and now is, in Chilean society, bordering on spinsterhood even though she’s still in her early twenties. Her father’s greatest dream is that his beloved princess marry and have children of her own, but she seems too busy establishing a career as a teacher to settle down. When a new police inspector moves into town, his wife Bárbara becomes a teacher in the same school as Mercedes, and the two work together to help the students put on a play.
While it initially seems that Mercedes will be the wooer of the married Bárbara, in fact it is Bárbara who pursues Mercedes. Plot twist: Bárbara has known since she was a teenager that she is a lesbian, and she’s determined to make a life for herself with the woman she loves.
A Feminist Storyline Runs Through It
The storyline goes from Bárbara and Mercedes’ initial courtship to being in a covert relationship to—completely unexpectedly—Bárbara demanding her freedom from her husband and Mercedes demanding that her father accept her love for Bárbara. In fact, it is these repeated and insistent demands that truly distinguish Barcedes: in addition to a love story, theirs is also a feminist storyline about women trying to carve space for themselves in a male-dominated society.
Even when the men around them exert emotional and sometimes physical dominance, they continue to fight, arguing that their emotions and their needs are equally valid and deserve to be respected. Bárbara, in particular, is a relentless fighter, because while Mercedes struggles to imagine a future in which it’s possible for two women to live together and love freely, Bárbara clings fiercely to the belief that it is not only possible, but through sheer force of will she can make it happen. It’s not by mistake that she constantly repeats to Mercedes: “I’ll take care of you.” Come hell or high water, she’ll do it.
A Rare Lesbian Love Story
That both Bárbara and Mercedes are identifiable as lesbians is actually rather rare for a telenovela/soap opera. It is more common to see a love story in which one of the pairing struggles to reconcile her attraction to another woman with her prior identity as a heterosexual (like “Clarina” or “Marbecca,” to name a few) because that is an easy source of conflict for the plotline (man vs. self). In this case, by making both characters lesbian, it brings the focus of the conflict to their environment (man vs. society and man vs. man): they aren’t the problem, it’s the men around them who are.
After their attempt to run away together is thwarted, Bárbara’s husband tries to lock her away in their house, while Mercedes’ father sends her to conversion therapy. Many, many dramatic tears are shed, but you know who’s not giving up? Bárbara.
Barcedes is not the first lesbian couple on a Chilean telenovela (that honor goes to Carla and Daniela on “No Abras la Puerta” (“Don’t Open the Door”) in 2014), but it’s certainly the most accessible to international viewers, with English subtitled clips easily available (props to the army of fans working hard to provide those translations). Nor does “Perdona Nuestros Pecados” shy away from showing kissing and love scenes between Bárbara and Mercedes.
There’s a pool scene in particular that will have viewers rewinding for another look. Interestingly, although Chile has a reputation for being culturally conservative, Barcedes is a more physical couple than almost every other Latin American lesbian telenovela couple.
An Enthusiastic Fan Base and Stars who Love Their Fans
Barcedes has an enthusiastic fan base, and a lot of credit is due to Soledad Cruz (Mercedes) and María José Bello (Bárbara), who have championed the pairing and embraced their fans, giving Barcedes that extra boost that comes from actresses proactively engaging with their fandoms.
In fact, Cruz and Bello did a lot of things right. In preparation for their storyline, they met lesbian couples, read books, and watched movies, a welcome touch that is sometimes overlooked by actresses. They have also been each other’s greatest cheerleaders, and their friendship for each other shines through on screen in the form of comfortable intimacy between their characters.
Overall, Barcedes has good chemistry, and the couple remains consistent with its Big Spoon (Bárbara)/Little Spoon (Mercedes) dynamic. Bárbara and Mercedes are believable as two women in love in a difficult situation.
The Art of the Telenovela
Telenovelas are an acquired taste for those who didn’t grow up with them. As a result, some viewers won’t enjoy Barcedes (certainly not anyone who finds soap operas annoyingly overdramatic. I’m really not kidding about how much Bárbara’s husband cries, and those are real tears). However, for viewers who like the romantic ideal of someone never giving up until you can be together, of someone who looks at you like you’re the only person in the world, Barcedes is a true love story.
“Perdona Nuestros Pecados” ends later this month, and I’m optimistic that this will be yet another happy ending from a Latin American telenovela. Barcedes, don’t let me down!