Far be it from any mortal man to question a beautiful woman: Such is the implied logic of ma ma, a melodrama written and directed by Julio Medem (Sex and Lucia, Lovers of the Arctic Circle) that follows the Madonna-like Magda (Penélope Cruz) through the aftermath of a breast cancer diagnosis.
Her story is one of unexpected suffering, her manner a “that’s life!” shrug, her beauty and magnetism perfectly intact through her long treatment (the film’s punny title plays her maternal role against a Spanish term for a woman’s breast). Most of what we learn about Magda comes from her interactions with a trio of orbiting men she sucks in like a dying star: her overly intimate doctor (Asier Etxeandia), her ex-husband (Alex Brendemühl), and Arturo (Luis Tosar), a sensitive football scout who takes up with her after his wife and child die in an accident. Even her son, a doe-eyed, football-playing pipsqueak (Teo Planell), seems to go foggy around her — perhaps due to the high intensity with which Magda views her call to motherhood.
Some of director Medem’s choices strain ma ma‘s naturalistic style, the worst being the CGI heart we see whenever Magda goes through something unbearably emotional. Cruz, a topnotch melodramatic actress, could have better carried those scenes herself — especially since the overall mise-en-scène, with its wide-open operating rooms and singing doctors, favors sensationalism over science.
The dopey symbolism of Magda staring down a menacing crab on the beach (get it?) may be the film’s biggest takeaway — even a grande dame of the screen can be taken down by stale poetry.
Directed by Julio Medem
Opens May 20, Landmark Sunshine