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José Luis Cuerda
Fernando Fernán Gómez,
Maria, whose parents live in the country, cannot stand her father's authoritarian ways and moves to the city. She finds a job as a cleaner and tries to survive in a wretched apartment in the shabby part of a big city. She is pregnant, and the fact that her boyfriend has abandoned her does not help matters. When her father goes to the hospital for an operation, her mother comes to stay with her. Her neighbor, an old recluse whose only friend is his dog, begins to come out of his shell and these three lost souls try to give each other the strength to start over. Written by
Writer/director Benito Zambrano has delivered a brilliant observation of real situations in the lives of a broken family and lonely people who only want to feel useful again.
It infuriates me that I cannot see this kind of film -- nothing even remotely approximating it -- from the Hollywood celluloid factory. Given over to LaLaLand, this would have been yet another throwaway melodrama drenched in its own soapiness. In Zambrano's hands, this low-budget gem eschews sentimentality and high-tech wizardry, digs deeply into characterization and shows us a view of the world we wouldn't know existed if we depended on Hollywood to show us. Zabrano's dialogue is just deadly accurate and very 'real'.
The acting is uniformly superb, but Maria Galiana as the long-suffering, illiterate, sturdy Earth Mother is astonishing. She ambles on and off the screen with a weary, brilliant light. She has sacrificed her entire life in the service of a husband who doesn't deserve to lick her shoes. She does it because, well, that's the way it is for women of her generation.
Carlos Alvarez-Novoa is equally brilliant as the the old neighbour who offers his considerable heart to the mother and to her pregnant-and-confused daughter Maria, beautifully played with passion and rage by Ana Fernandez.
Both Galiana and Alvarez-Novoa give us faces and gestures of old and tired people who know too well the unfairness of life for the poor. There is a wonderful scene between the two when Alvarez-Novoa has an attack of diarrhea and Galiana insists on helping him. He resists, telling her he reeks of excrement. Galiana handles the situation as casually as she would the copious body wastes of the pigs she keeps back home in her native village. This tiny touch of humanity is the kind of scene one sees frequently in European films (and rarely, if ever, in flicks from Hollywood).
Benito Zambrano has done a masterful job here. Like other politically conscious writers and directors working in Europe, he takes the reality of proletarian existence and makes it into something very real, all without sappiness. This is one terrific film.
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