Ma ma review by Adrijan Arsovski - Cinema Paradiso
Ma ma is a feeble exercise in melodramatic tendencies, sprinkled with a laid-back attitude on top that pushes for sentimental value almost too much for its own sake. A mushy brew of irrational decisions that ultimately carries a hazardous, if not a naive message about the nature of a terminal disease that has nothing to do with reality. Ultimately, whilst well put together, Ma ma commits the gravel sin of romanticizing a topic too serious to be taken so lightly.
Julio Medem at the helm drives this film with Penélope Cruz on deck, which proves more than capable to get the job done, efficiently and with heart. However, no amount of good acting can salvage a script that pushes for tragedy whenever it gets the chance to do so: Cruz as Magda’s life goes from bad to worse and instead of alluring empathy, it ends up fabricating disgust. The reason behind this can be traced back to Aristotle’s Poetics, which goes something along the lines of ‘make your character as humanly real as possible, and the rest will follow’. Since Ma ma is everything except real – the tragedy is (subconsciously) interpreted as lazy, unmotivated writing that slaps illogical stamps onto the previously perfect life of one middle-class, law-abiding citizen Madga (The Book of Job perhaps?).
Furthermore, director Julio Medem’s imagination does not only stretch seemingly sinful mishaps to (implicitly) banal cessations, but he also cloaks them by sporting a deceptive manner most other film coaches would plead guilty to. Thanks, but no thanks.
The film’s first two acts (yes, Ma ma follows the infamous three part structure) holds up somewhat thanks to Penélope Cruz’s riveting performance, but she alone cannot salvage the emotional in-your-face wreckage that is about to come in the third and final act. As events intertwine between each other, Magda stays positive even in the face of death, and one quickly loses all sympathy for her character since no sane person would act the way she does in the film. And when viewers cannot connect to an emotional level with a fictional effigy: you know you’ve messed something up.
Ma ma not only glorifies adolescent naivety, but it also detaches itself from all things human – ending up an empty fairytale that makes the titular character encounter a destiny they do not deserve. Magda’s optimism laughs in the face of those most affected by similar illnesses, and fails helping them to reach their true potential while possible.
As a story, Ma ma is too incredible to be taken at face value. As a fairytale, Ma ma fails to provide excitement for the masses.
As a coherent structure of visuals and sounds, Ma ma is just not worth it.