Few can claim to have helped showcase Flamenco – the quintessentially Spanish music and dance form, to a global audience as successfully as Carlos Saura. One of Spain’s favourite directors (and mine too), Sr. Saura is a traditionalist – liberally perusing various cultural motifs and art forms to tell a story, as has always been the case for centuries before cinema. But his films nevertheless, even the literary adaptations, are often social allegories – made necessary thanks to prevailing politics and restrictions. He also has a passion for performance arts seldom seen in cinema, plainly evident while watching an entire narrative flowing like a stage play, musical ballet, or a workshop even. He will however be most remembered outside of Spain for his famed Flamenco Trilogy (comprising the magnificent Bodas de Sangre, the BAFTA-winning Carmen, and the fascinating portrait of gypsy culture in El Amor Brujo).
His Oscar-nominated comedy drama “Mamá cumple 100 años” [Eng. Title: Mama Turns 100] cleverly borrows characters from an earlier film (Ana y los Lobos) and continues with their story as if it were some kind of sequel, but presents a different message altogether through allegory. It was made during the Destape years – a loose Spanish equivalent to the Soviet Glasnost – a period preceding and following dictator Franco’s death.
Englishwoman Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) is invited for a party by a family she worked for several years ago – she was their children’s nanny. The children are young ladies now, and the family matriarch (Rafaela Aparicio), on the eve of her centenary, wants to make sure everyone who matter to her are also present. In particular, her trusted Ana, who’s now married to Antonio (Norman Briski). Ana had insisted he accompany her, and they arrive to see the family as dysfunctional as ever – the eldest son is now dead, the second son Juan has left his wife Luchy (Charo Soriano) to live with someone younger, and their children whom Ana took care of – Natalia (Amparo Muñoz), Carlota (Angeles Torres), and Victoria (Elisa Nandi) have grown up. The matriarch also seems to share some kind of telepathic bond with Ana and her third son, the still unmarried Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez). It is probably through her special powers that the matriarch catches whiff of a plot by her children to kill her, for the estate that’s worth millions. The matriarch doesn’t want the property to be sold to developers, and seeks Ana’s help in thwarting the murder attempt on her hundredth birthday…
The matriarch stands as an allegory for Spain’s age old cultural values and traditions, and her children represent the vain, squandering, rebellious, and lost youth, and I suspect – also the restive regions in Spain that are threatening to secede. Ana is the friendly outsider who has problems of her own to contend with. There are no doubt additional nuances that those brought up in Spain will be able to readily identify with, but even for us outsiders, there is enough to keep our minds occupied in this satire shaped in the form of a gentle comedy. The performances are universally delightful, but a special mention is in order for the beautiful, incredibly talented, but as always ridiculously overlooked Geraldine Chaplin – a true European artiste in every sense of the word, whom Sr. Saura directs impeccably well. Needless to say, this Carlos Saura gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Amparo Muñoz
There may only be brief flashes of nudity in the film, but it is more than compensated for when it happens to be the utterly gorgeous former Miss Spain and Miss Universe Amparo Muñoz. Her recent passing might be woefully untimely and unjust, but this is a great film to remember her by. She appears nude in two scenes – first when the all-grown up Natalia seduces Ana’s husband Antonio with some wholly unnecessary ‘Maui Wowie’, and later while trying on one of her mum’s risqué costumes for the birthday party.