Ma ma dir. Julio Medem

In Ma Ma, the lead character, Magda, finds out she has advanced stage breast cancer. Magda, played by Penélope Cruz, is surrounded by males as she goes through chemotherapy, recovery, and illness again, and we see how her ordeal affects them: her philandering ex-husband, Raúl, her new husband, Arturo, her son, Dani, and her doctor and confidante, Julián. Though she directly and deeply affects their lives, she is also like a divine being, floating in a higher plane than them. She hides her illness from her son for a whole summer so that he does not worry unduly; she keeps a light tone and touch with her doctor even as his grim face betrays the depth of her illness; she supports Arturo as he grieves for the death of his first wife. I am woman, hear me roar, indeed, as she jokes and orders her way around illness, the men’s tears, and the cold, impersonal machines and accoutrements which circumscribe her cancer. Her zest for life and living diminishes the males, and frankly, renders them a little unnecessary. Ms. Cruz is such a strong, unsentimental presence, that even when her character cries, you don’t worry: though she might die, her spirit will outlive all of them. The selflessness of Magda and the magnetism of Ms. Cruz makes for a more interesting story rather than the film’s sentimental narrative.

ma ma, dir. Julio Medem, 111 mins. Ad hoc studios, Backup Media, et al., 2015. In Spanish. Opens today in the San Francisco Bay Area.