Penelope Cruz plays the charming mother, Magda, in the emotional whirlwind that is Ma Ma, the latest film from Spanish director Julio Medem. Worlds away from his previous features Sex and Lucia and Room in Rome, Ma Ma is an intense, heart-breaking and altogether surreal experience. Charming and upbeat single parent Magda has her life turned upside down when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. The drama follows her turbulent journey through recovery and relapse, alongside her relationships with her young son and new partner, Arturo (Luis Tosar), who is struggling with his own grief after the death of his wife and daughter. The two bond over the mutual tragedies in their lives and start a relationship. However, the pace at which major events happen during the movie is so fast that any proper realism is ruined, with many scenes appearing simply too dreamlike and unrealistic to be that effective. This is a shame, considering the serious and upsetting issues the film is trying to represent.
Beautifully shot and set in sunny Madrid, Ma Ma’s bright and airy look is an interesting contrast against its arguably bleak storyline. Cruz’s portrayal of the “strong woman and mother” is admirable and her character is generally likeable, but the film’s jumpy structure and lack of realistic scenarios ultimately lets it down, making some of its characters appear strangely alien at times, with various scenes seeming unnecessary and self-indulgent. Also, characters often seem inappropriately tactile – with Magda receiving weirdly intimate hugs and kisses from medical staff and developing an unusually physical relationship with her doctor.
As the movie progresses, however, it is hard not to get wrapped up in some of the drama and start genuinely rooting for Magda and her health. The bold and frank way that Ma Ma deals with the topic of cancer (and femininity) is also very eye-opening and emotional at times. The fact that the heroine does not get her happy ending – and does not actually survive – is one of the film’s more realistic and affecting aspects. It thankfully does not try to sugar-coat the notion of being terminally ill. For many women, Ma Ma will probably be a difficult watch whether it is realistic or not, and it is worth noting that the feature actually dedicates itself “to the women” at the very end.
Ma Ma is released nationwide on 24th June 2016.
Watch the trailer for Ma Ma here: