Magda (Penélope Cruz) is an unemployed teacher. She is diagnosed with breast cancer, and she battles the disease. This will create unexpected bonds with people close to her.
In the opening scenes, unemployed Magda (Cruz, doing her considerable best in a film she co-produced) is diagnosed as having breast cancer, for which she’s being treated by gynecologist Julian (Asier Etxeandia), a dreamy, soft-spoken chap with unlimited time available to deal with his patients. In the stands at a soccer game, watching her talented son Dani (Teo Planell), she meets soccer scout Arturo (Luis Tosar), who receives the news that there’s been a car crash involving his wife and son.
A friendship develops between Magda and Arturo, based on mutual emotional support: Dani’s Raul (Alex Brendemuhl) is an implausibly callous philosophy teacher who’s scarcely to be seen. Soon it will fall to Julian to reveal that her cancer is terminal: she starts having mysterious dreams of a pale girl in snow, walking dreamily towards camera.
Julian, meanwhile, is that rare beast, a doctor who sings 70s Spanish pop songs to his patients — to say the least, an extremely dodgy directorial decision. After the gyno starts warbling over Magda’s bed, Ma Ma never really recovers. It’s a thin line between directorial fearlessness and directorial foolhardiness.
Medem’s early work created distinctive worlds, poetic, eerie and strange. They were driven by their own logic, and bizarre though it sometimes was, they were working in the service of a vision. But here, there is an absence of any comprehensible world or vision, and very little logic. Magda, an unemployed teacher, lives in a great apartment.
How come Julian has so much free time? What happens to Dani’s soccer dreams, so crucial at the start? And yes, the continual suggestions that Magda’s illness have isolated her from the world come over loud and clear, but why does she not have even a single female friend? Indeed, a nurse (Silvia Abascal) apart, where are all the women the final credits tell us the film is dedicated to?
Ma Ma (Spanish: Ma ma) is a Spanish drama film directed by Julio Medem. It was screened in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
Cannes Q&A: Penelope Cruz talks ‘Ma Ma’
Penelope Cruz will be in Cannes today to present “Ma Ma,” which is her first as a producer. In it, she plays Magda, a gutsy mother who battles to overcome tragedy. “Ma Ma” also marks Cruz’s first film with Spanish auteur Julio Medem, who has directed some of the most sensorial, sensual and involved portrayals of feminine sensibility in modern Spanish cinema (“Vacas,” “Lovers of the Arctic Circle,” “Sex and Lucia”).
You both live in Los Angeles. Why return to Spain to make a film in Spanish?
Medem: “Ma Ma” is right up my street: Large emotional and dramatic intensity, and it turns on the intimacy of the characters — one woman, two men, played by Luis Tosar and Asier Etxeandia, who love her, and a 10-year-old boy. It’s the first time I portray a character who’s not a woman and lover but a mother. Maternity is key in “Ma Ma.” The tragedy stems from that.
Cruz: A few months ago, Julio gave me the script over lunch. I read it that night and was just bowled over. It’s one of the most complex, most beautiful characters I’ve ever been offered, the most difficult. Some films take years to come together, “Ma Ma” has come together very fast.
Why the move into production?
Cruz: I want to build what could be my future in cinema, not always being in front of the camera. I’d also like to direct a feature, maybe 10 years from now. For now, I’m directing commercial and video-clips; I love that. And it’s the best way to learn. I want to go slowly, step by step. I’m following the whole production process very closely, from the film’s inception.
Julio has suggested that Magda has certain things in common with you.
Cruz: Maybe, she battles for things because all sorts of things happen to her. She’s optimistic. But her pace and energy are different. Acting interests me a great deal more than playing someone very much like myself. The further away she is from me, the more possibilities that offers as an actress. That’s acting: the beauty of risk, facing up to the unknown, placing yourself in the skin of someone you invite into your life for a time, someone who isn’t you.
For ‘Ma Ma,’ you’ve reunited the team of ‘Sex and Lucia’: d.p. Kiko de la Rica, composer Alberto de la Iglesia, and art designer Montse Sanz. Will you also return to the style of ‘Sex and Lucia,’ whose second part offered a total immersion in Lucia’s life?
Medem: “Ma Ma” will be a luminous film, with somewhat overexposed and cold images, strong blues, cold reds and golds. The camera will be constantly at Magda’s side, we’ll sense her feelings and sensations, constantly accompany her. It’s a subjective film, beginning with tragedy, but it’s not about tragedy but rather how to react to tragedy, a film that creates a desire to live, to be happy.
Directed by: Julio Medem
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Luis Tosar, Asier Etxeandia, Teo Planell, Anna Jiménez, Elena Carranza, Nicolás De Vicente, Virginia Ávila, Javier Martos, Anabel Maurin, Silvia Abascal
Screenplay by: Julio Medem
Costume Design by: Carlos Díez
Art Direction by: Montse Sanz
Music by: Eduardo Cruz, Alberto Iglesias
MPAA Rating: R for some nudity and brief sexual references.
Studio: Entertainment One
Release Date: May 20, 2016