Thursday, May 19, 2016

Magic realism, Julio Medem-style: Penélope Cruz, Luis Tosar & Asier Etxeandia in MA MA

Spanish filmmaker Julio Medem has had a promising career, probably capped a little too soon by the success of his earlier work, Sex & Lucia, which helped make Paz Vega an international sex symbol. (Pushing the sexual envelope seldom seems to hurt a career.) While Medem has made some other interesting films, the ones that TrustMovies has seen, at least, offer cross-currents of sex and fantasy, love and death, art and life all jostling for position. The guy is at it again with his latest work, MA MA, which gives Penélope Cruz (shown above and further below) the opportunity to display more of her great beauty and some of her acting chops, playing a young mother suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer.

As usual Señor Medem, shown at left, puts all this together in a manner that portends darkness and depth but actually ends up giving us some very pretty images and a lot of feel-good philosophy. Ma Ma may be his silliest movie yet, and almost because of this, it may strike you, as it did me, as particularly endearing. By its finale, it had me in tears, even though I knew damned well that those tears had been hugely manipulated, or as we sometime say, "jerked." My spouse, who gave up on the movie midway, had a different term. He called Ma Ma "a kind of pornography."

And, no, Spousie meant nothing "sexual" by this word. (The film's single sex scene is cleverly visualized via a close-up of a heart, beating ever faster as entry and orgasm are achieved.) Rather, the film is another example of what my spouse feels movies and television give us when they pretend to be showing "real life" but instead offer up a sugar-coated, high-gloss look at stuff that in reality -- where anything approaching economic "normalcy" is concerned -- is no such thing. Movies and television, he says, do this so often and so thoroughly that audiences expect life should be like this, somewhat in the manner that young men. now often raised on a diet of pornography, expect that actual sex ought to resemble what they see on film.

In this film, après diagnosis, the Cruz character, Magda, meets Arturo (the magnetic Spanish actor, Luis Tosar,above), who happens to be a soccer scout with eyes on Magda's young son, Dani (Teo Planell) shown at right, two photos below and at bottom) who loves the game and wants to be a soccer star. Magda's husband is a randy, absentee father, and Arturo has just lost wife and child in a tragic accident. Made for each other, right?

Meanwhile, Magda's physician -- Asier Etxeandia (above, left) -- is a gorgeous hunk who doubles as quite the singer. Locations includes swank apartments, seaside resorts and lovely white hospital rooms, Oh, yes, and there's a subplot regarding an about-to-be-adopted Russian orphan, plus a surprise entry of new "life" into this tale of disease and death,

All of this corresponds to what I am guessing is Medem's message to us viewers, found in the lyrics of one of the songs our gorgeous physician sings: "see, touch, hear, feel, love, suffer," (well, you get the point). And so do our characters, who reprise that song at the film's conclusion.  Still, as I say, the movie got to me, ridiculous as it often seemed.

Tosar and Cruz have such good chemistry that I'm surprised not to have seen them playing opposite each other previously. Still, I will go no farther than admitting, despite all its grasping at the straws of magic realism and themes as would-be weighty as life and death, infidelity and impotence, parenting and adoption, Ma Ma is really high-toned soap opera for the arthouse set. Well, there are some of us who enjoy that kind of thing....

From Oscilloscope and running a bit too lengthy at 111 minutes, the movie opens tomorrow, Friday, May 20, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and the following week, Friday, Mary 27, down here in South Florida at a number of theaters: in Miami at the Tower Theater; in Aventura at the AMC Aventura; in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters; and in Fort Lauderdale at the Cinema Paradiso. Elsewhere? Absolutely. Click here then scroll down to view currently scheduled  playdates, cities and theaters.

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