Vero has led a quiet and unassuming life. Now in her sixties, she looks around to find very little to give her joy. Her kids are all grown up with kids of their own. Her husband is loving but would rather spend time playing on his phone and falling asleep watching TV than lay with her. Her work as a high school history teacher is old-hat. But a cancer diagnosis and a electric encounter with a rebellious new student will lead her to reconsider everything she’s ever known about herself. Marcelino Islas Hernández’s Clases de historia (History Lessons) follows the journey Vero (Verónica Langer, the gossippy neighbor on Casa de las Flores) embarks on.
Borrowing a page from movies like Gloria that take up older women course-correcting their lives, Clases de historia creates a touching portrait of Vero bonding with Eva (YouTuber Renata Vaca). The more the restrained teacher hangs out with the Bettie Page-lookalike student, the more she embraces a devil-may-care attitude. The bland beige background of her house opens up to the pink and purple world of young Eva. Speaking at a Q&A following a screening of his film at Los Cabos International Film Festival, Islas Hernández admitted that he wanted his protagonist “to be stronger, to be more assertive, to take the reins of her own life. That they’d choose to burn rather than dry out. I wanted to make a film about enjoying life.”
And as Langer shared, she and her co-star did become two giggling schoolgirls while shooting together. They even angered their director from time to time. But that chemistry is what makes the curious relationship between Vero and Eva so hard to pin down. “What I wanted to do was make a film about these two lonely souls who find love, in whatever form that takes, leaving aside perhaps the more perverse side of it,” the director added, noting that an older woman becoming so close with a flirtatious young girl could easily have teetered into obscene territory. “But while we were shooting, we never used any adjectives to describe this relationship. It was never a ‘they’re X’ or ‘this is Y.’ We just went building it along the way.”
Langer was equally forthcoming about the tricky nature of that relationship. “Sometimes I think these things are a bit difficult to explain,” she remarked when discussing her connection with Vaca. As the film goes on, Vero slowly grows very close to Eva, going from treating her with aggression (slapping her in the classroom), later tenderness (agreeing to drive her to go a doctor), and finally with a chastely erotic touch (caressing her naked back in bed). “What fascinates me about this character,” she added, “is that she’s not a cliché. She’s someone who, in her sixties, is still treated as a person, as a character worthy of a story as much as a twenty year-old.”
Clases de historia screened as part of Los Cabos International Film Festival