Spanish comedy/drama features veteran Kiti Manver as a middle-aged woman exploring her sexuality
Dir: Patricia Ortega. Spain. 2022. 84mins
A woman goes bravely in search of her first orgasm in Mamacruz, the Venezuelan-born, Spanish-domiciled director Patricia Ortega’s follow-up to 2018’s multiple prize-winner Being Impossible. Balanced on the tightrope between comedy and pathos, the precision-tooled Mamacruz is essentially a sensitively observed character study, with Spanish veteran Kiti Manver delivering a compelling, nuanced central performance as a religiously-repressed woman in late middle age who comes late – in all senses – to the transformative power of her own sensuality. The context may be very Spanish but the theme is universal, and it’s this, along with the very relatable central character, that’s likely to awaken further festival interest.
The veteran Manver delivers a masterclass in nuance as a quietly-spoken, humble and repressed woman undergoing a violent inner transformation
An impeccable Catholic and skilled seamstress, Mamacruz (Manver) lives with her long-time husband, comically wild-haired Eduardo (Pepe Quero), whose rumbling snore is a key sound feature through the first part of the film, All communication between the couple seems to have come to an end, and it comes as a surprise when we realise that Eduardo can actually speak. They are taking care of their young grandchild while their daughter Carlota (Silvia Acosta) is in Vienna, pursuing her career as a dancer. As evidenced during one of her awkward video chats with Carlota, Mamacruz disapproves.
Like Being Impossible, Mamacruz explores the complexities of hitherto repressed sexuality. A fleeting accidental brush with an online porn site leads to an unexpected rekindling of desire which, lacking the vocabulary, she later describes as a warm feeling in her stomach. Before too long, she is becoming lost in reveries that seem to be part religious, part sexual; in one intense scene, the line between worship and desire having become suddenly blurred, she is about to start kissing a statue of Jesus when she is luckily interrupted by a priest.
Enrolling in a sex therapy class for middle-aged women led by Marina (Mari Paz Sayago), Mamacruz is inducted into a new world of vibrators and Ben Wa balls, but also of liberating vulgarity, laughter and, during one woozy scene, dope. Soon she’s skiving off Mass to go to the therapy sessions, suggesting that a very deep change has taken place, one to do with embracing the body she has rather than simply trying to squeeze it out of sight into a flesh-coloured corset.
Mamacruz can be compared with Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – though crucially, and originally, there’s no Leo here. Tenderly but somewhat pathetically, Cruz first tries to offer her new-found sensuality to Eduardo by submissively applying cream to his feet, but the following scene, with each of them shot through a window divided by a frame, shows that the breach between them is far from closing.
Although there are indeed moments of healthy vulgarity – a phallic churro being dipped into hot chocolate, for example – Mamacruz is far from being the joyous celebration of unshackled sexuality that its plotline might suggest. It could probably have done with a bit more of this, but the tone remains clipped and proper, in line with its heroine. The veteran Manver – an 80s and 90s Almodovar regular who more recently featured in Netflix series Money Heist – delivers a masterclass in nuance as a quietly-spoken, humble and repressed woman undergoing a violent inner transformation. Apart from the noisy and sometimes hilarious sex therapy scenes, Mamacruz is light on dialogue, so it falls to Manver to expertly communicate most of this change through visuals – a shy, guilty half-smile, eyelids shut tremblingly, a response left a beat too long.
Fran Fernandez-Pardo’s camerawork adds further texture to the cumulative detail that is so much a part of this film’s meaning by, for example going in close as Mamacruz paints the lips of a statue of the Virgin scarlet. And in line with the film’s general tone, Paloma Penarrubia’s score consists of muted, very pretty guitar work.
Production companies: La Claqueta, Pecado, Mandragora
International sales: Filmax firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Olmo Figueredo Gonzalez-Quevedo, Carlos Rosado Sibon, Jose Alba
Screenplay: Patricia Ortega, Jose Ortuno
Cinematography: Fran Fernandez-Pardo
Production design: Sergio Maurino
Editing: Fatima de los Santos
Music: Paloma Penarrubia
Main cast: Kiti Manver, Pepe Quero, Ines Benitez Vinuela, Silvia Acosta, Mari Paz SayagoAn