Written and Directed by JULI O M E D E M
Produced by PEN ÉLOPE CR UZ , JULI O ME D E M , and ALVAR O LO N G O R I A Starring PEN ÉL O PE C RU Z , LU I S T OS A R , and AS I E R E T X E AN D I A
ma ma takes place in Spain during the financial crisis of 2012/2013 and follows Magda (Cruz) during what will be the most trans-formative year of her life. She is a school teacher who is about to be laid off and on the day her gynecologist tells her she has stage 3 breast cancer her husband decides to dump her via text message.
While she attends hers son's soccer match she meets Arturo (Tosar), a talent scout for Real Madrid who informs her that her son will have a bright future in soccer if he chooses to. This moment of hope is quickly upended when Arturo receives a phone call that his wife and daughter have been in an accident. Magda accompanies him to the hospital and attempts to comfort him until his family arrives. Even when her life is completely falling apart Magda takes solace in helping a man who has had a worse day than her. Arturo's wife soon passes away and Magda undergoes a mastectomy on her right breast. The two bond during this shared tragedy and slowly start to reform their lives.
The film feels as if its two separate parts, each about an hour-long and complete with their own setup and resolution. The first half stars with tragedy and moves into a story of healing and the second half is a story about how death and life are connected. Most films about cancer are designed to be sentimental and gooey around the edges with enough saccharine to cause diabetes but Medem feels no need to make a sugary Hallmark card. There isn't a single moment where a character cries to the heavens as rain falls into their open arms.
The backdrop of the financial crisis and Madrid winning the Euro-Cup are the greater story that Medem is concerned with. The juxtaposition of those two events perfectly encapsulate what it means to be human. Amidst any tragedy there are always moments of joy and hope, the key is to choose what you want to focus on.
In a quiet moment towards the end of the film Magda lays out the films central thesis. She tells her son that she doesn't believe in God or that souls live on after death but she does believe in happiness. She believes that we should always try to follow our bliss and try not to hurt others in doing so but encourages her son to make up his own mind. She tells him to listen to those around him but draw his own conclusions. She flat out tells him not to believe her, insisting he be independent in his thought. Its a remarkably well crafted scene that's both painful and exhilarating to watch.
ma ma is a wonderfully odd little film that never heads down the easy or expected road and for that I am thankful.