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Ma ma


Stars: Penelope Cruz, Luis Tosar, Asier Etxeandia, Teo Planell, Alex Brendemuhl, Silvia Abascal, Anna Jimenez

Director: Julio Medem

To describe this slushy soap opera as a simply a weepie would be like describing the Niagara Falls as a mere trickle. It is so sugary that diabetes sufferers considering seeing it would be well advised to have a large hypodermic syringe filled to the brim with insulin conveniently to hand.

Things are not going well for Spanish teacher Penelope Cruz. She has lost her job in Madrid and her wayward academic husband Alex Brendemuhl has left her and their young son for a sexual fling.

And that’s just the beginning of the Madrid mother’s mounting misfortunes.

When she makes a too-long postponed visit to gynaecologist Asier Etxeandia she learns she has stage 3 breast cancer and has to face grueling chemotherapy followed by losing her hair, undergoing a mastectomy and then, inevitably, death…

Emotional salve fortuitously arrives when, watching her young son Teo Planell playing football at school she meets and bonds with football talent scout Luis Tosar who, traumatised by the death of his daughter and later his wife in a car crash, brings companionship and emotion followed by true love into her ever-shortening life…

Julio Medem’s mawkish screenplay is syrupy enough to make the average Mills and Boon paperback romance resemble torture porn and his matching direction sedulously seeks to wring every tear possible from Cruz’s mounting unhappiness, with Kiko de la Rica’s colour cinematography giving the show a paperback cover-style colouring.

Fortunately, Cruz (who, as one of the film’s producers must surely have known all about the tank of treacle into which she was about to jump) gives a performance that, in spite of the storyline clichés surrounding her at every turn, is powerful, moving and, against all odds, emotionally true, making an impressive mark in a story that might well have been deemed far too sugary even for a television soap.

The other characters – including (surely a cinema first) a singing gynaecologist – are competently played and serve their innate purpose – to showcase Cruz – as well as their material allows.

While Ma Ma is maudlin in extremis, Cruz’s riveting performance almost saves the show.

Alan Frank

Spain/France 2015. UK Distributor: Metrodome. Colour.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Jun 2016