From Spain, this drama grapples with some enormous issues without getting too heavy about them. It's emotionally wrenching without ever feeling sentimental, because inventive filmmaker Julio Medem (Sex & Lucia) keeps the tone funny and full of life. He also gets sparkling performances from Penelope Cruz and Luis Tosar, who keep the movie bright and hopeful even as the characters face mortality and death.
Cruz plays Magda, a feisty woman who turns all of her energy toward her lively teen son Dani (Teo Planell) after ditching her womanising husband Raul (Alex Brendemuhl). Dani is a star player on his school football team, attracting the attention of top scout Arturo (Tosar), whose life is shaken to the core when his daughter is killed in a car crash that leaves his wife in a coma. Secretly, Magda has been dealing with issues of her own, going through treatment for advanced breast cancer with her attentive doctor Julian (Asier Etxeandia). When things get more serious, she sends Dani away to stay with his aunt (Monica Sagrera). And while he's away, she and Arturo help each other through their darkest moments.
The film is a rollercoaster of emotions, from soaring happiness to deep despair, and Medem's approach is so honest that this never feels jarring. It's a look at the resilience of the human spirit, which can remain optimistic even when things get tough. Using dry humour and truthful emotions, he explores the importance of choosing joy, seamlessly mixing comedy and tragedy while refusing to let this become a traditional weepy drama. Within this open-handed approach, Cruz shines as a radiant woman who faces life head-on. Her interaction with each of the other characters is complex and engaging, especially in the surprising journey Magda takes with Arturo. Tosar is excellent, as always, with equally layered side roles beautifully played by Planell and Exteandia.
Continue reading: Ma Ma Review
For Lucía y el sexo -- cleverly twisted around for English-speaking audiences as Sex and Lucía, to put the emphasis on the film's substantial eroticism -- the alternate universe reference is more appropriate than you might think. The story (obviously) centers around Lucía (Paz Vega), a listless waitress who falls in love with a novelist named Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa), based on the power of his works. She propositions him, soon they're living together and engaging in lots of the titular activity, but then Lorenzo disappears. A cop calls, and Lucía fears Lorenzo is dead.
Continue reading: Sex And Lucía Review
Reminscent of Map of the Human Heart, the film is slow to get going and a bit gimmicky (telling the story from both points of view, repeating the scenes with a different slant), but it all pays off in the end. Give it a chance; you're sure to fall in love with all three actresses that play the woman throughout her life.
Continue reading: Lovers Of The Arctic Circle Review
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.