After Room in Rome. it has taken five years for the redoubtable Julio Medem to come up with a new full-length feature, and while it has a simple and more straightforward narrative when compared to his earlier works, “ma ma” still has his style and tone stamped all over it. It is also the first time he gets to work with Spanish icon Penélope Cruz, with whom he also co-produced the film.
Recently made unemployed and also recently separated mother Magda (Penélope Cruz) visits her gynaecologist Julián (Asier Etxeandia) for a routine checkup, only to discover that she requires a mastectomy in addition to chemotherapy after being diagnosed for breast cancer. “You won’t even leave me my nipple as a keepsake?”, she pleads with Julián in what for her is essentially the latest blow in a quick succession of life-altering events.
The one bright spot in Magda’s life remains Dani (Teo Planell), her twelve year old son whose footballing skills don’t go unnoticed by Arturo (Luis Tosar), a Real Madrid scout. Returning from the hospital, she bumps into him at the stadium where Dino is playing, but just as they begin to strike up a conversation, Arturo receives a call that his daughter had just died and his wife left in coma following a road accident. Despite having a bad day of her own, Magda takes pity at his plight and helps him to the hospital where his wife is admitted.
Their friendship grows, and following her operation and his wife’s passing, they become a couple. Magda and Dino move into his home. But before long, the new found tranquility is shattered once again when she receives devastating news from a deeply upset and caring Julián during a subsequent checkup, which would lead her to take the most momentous decision in her life, on her own terms…
Unlike most conventional couplings, Magda and Arturo’s love doesn’t start during happier times with sexual attraction being the driver – they become soulmates long before they become lovers, even though they hold very different outlooks; whilst Arturo is inspired by faith, Magda is inspired by life itself, and doggedly pursues and spreads ‘happiness’ no matter what it throws at her – a positivity that accommodates and spreads to everyone who she comes in contact with.
This is Medem’s unique world; fed by streams of positive energy and goodwill in life’s undulating landscape of highs and lows. His world is determinedly curious, devoid of cynicism, and seeks to find order or a pattern amongst seemingly chaotic events. Whilst he revelled in showing us such symmetry in earlier works such as Sex and Lucia and Lovers of the Arctic Circle, in “ma ma” he restricts himself to just a single such visual metaphor, with the character ‘Natasha’. The cinematography might be relatively subdued owing to the subject matter, but the film nevertheless retains all the sumptuousness one can expect from a Julio Medem, not to mention fine performances from the main cast. Apart from one plot detail which perhaps could’ve been explained sufficiently from an ethical point of view, this couples-film ticks the right boxes and reaffirms Julio Medem as my favourite Spanish director working today. Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Penélope Cruz
There is brief topless nudity in a couple of scenes where Penélope Cruz’s character is either examining herself or being examined by the doctor.