Directed by: Julio Medem
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Luis Tosar, Asier Etxeandia
Ma Ma, Julio Medem’s eighth film, tells the story of Magda (Penelope Cruz), a single mother who discovers she has stage three breast cancer. While going through chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she grows close to recent widow Arturo (Luis Tosar), a football scout who sees a bright future in her son (Teo Planell). As they quickly form a new family, Magda receives news that her cancer has spread, leaving her only a few months with her loved ones. While there are few twists in the story, Ma Ma is an attempt at a heart felt story centred around a woman’s strength against cancer but it never manages to accomplish it.
For a director once claimed to become one of Spain’s most prominent directors, Ma Ma is a disappointment. Medem paints each character so thinly that it becomes impossible to care for such dull people. Cruz tries her best with Magda but her sole purpose seems to be to just love her son, Arturo is painted as the kind boyfriend and nothing else, while Magda’s gynaecologist Julian (Asier Etxeandia) is the handsome doctor with a good voice who never feels like he has a purpose other than to dispense bad news. Magda’s son fares no better, whose whole character is built around his love for football and nothing else. Once the film reaches it second act, it becomes obvious it has little more to offer, never flourishing into a touching story, instead remaining stationary till it becomes a dull trudge towards the credits. Visually the film is lacking. A few shots feel Malick-esque, some shots are so clinically white they’re migraine inducing, while the rest is as tedious as the characters, causing it to all feel like a desperate attempt to add some edge to what is essentially a conventional narrative. Tonally, the film is never sure what it wants to be. Frequent jokes are cracked in serious scenes, detracting any emotional connection we are meant to have with the film and when the jokes do come, they typically centre on Magda’s “amputated” breast, which makes for awkward laughs.
The film’s biggest flaw, however, is the complete lack of believability, causing it to abandon any resemblance to the real world. One scene involving an iced nipple is particularly bizarre and the constant visions of a Siberian orphan feel intrusive and unneeded. Dani’s resentment towards his mother in the second act feels inauthentic, Arturo’s emotion after his wife passes away is so lacking it seems like it has no overall effect and the film’s last twist feels like an afterthought. It all leaves Ma Ma feeling too pedestrian for it’s subject matter.