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
Here's the setup: Three sisters dote on their divorced mother (Rosa María Sardà), a concert pianist, but find themselves shocked when she turns up attached to a young Czech girl who speaks broken Spanish. After plenty of Woody Allen-style neurosis, the trio hatches a plan to break up mom and lover by finding a surrogate for the Czech's affections. Eventually this falls on the most troubled of the sisters, Elvira (Leonor Watling), and soon enough mom is single again. Alas, she's so depressed that she's lost her girlfriend that the sisters have a change of heart, travelling to the Czech Republic to convince the girl to go back to mom.
Continue reading: My Mother Likes Women Review
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.