Ma Ma (2016) | Julio Medem

Film Review: Ma Ma (2016)

This film really touched me. I hesitate to attempt persuasion via a personal, anecdotal connection, however, I believe that our personal connections have the ability to transcend. I believe this is how art is able to establish leverage in the unique souls of many and truly move us as consumers. After reading some of the negative feedback about this film, I especially wanted to offer an alternative perspective.

This film, Ma Ma (2016), offers a beautiful interpretation of life with cancer. It is interspersed with what I interpreted to be a kind of very real, magical realism. For me, it was exquisite.

Magda (Penelope Cruz) reminds me of my very own mother. For as long as I can remember, my mother has told me the story:

When I was 28 years old, I was in the kitchen when I felt that odd feeling that there is another presence in the room. I turned around and calmly had the impression that a little girl with long brown hair was walking away from me. Days after, I found out I was pregnant with you.

My mother has a beautiful spirituality that is unique and special, though she does not believe in ghosts and such in the way that this story could be interpreted. She understood the vision of the girl–a figment her mind and her hope–as a source comfort that she continued to carry with her. Throughout my childhood, she called me, “my little comfort.”

When I was 10 and my mother 38, she was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. She and my father decided to tell me and my sisters right away. I remember where we stood in the kitchen when they told us. The lighting, the words, the rush of energy reaching my toes as we ran down the stairs to greet them–it’s all frozen, preserved in my mind. I remember the blood on the floral bandages from her surgeries. I remember the morning she began losing her hair, the smell of the chemotherapy on her arms and cheeks, watching the needles enter her arms after our 3 1/2 hour drive each Saturday. I remember the way her returning, peppered hair felt on my hands. I remember when that little hair fell out again. I remember her many hats, her first and only tattoos–dotted radiation targets, I remember the night she rocked me and told me that she was not contagious.

What I don’t remember, however, and perhaps never considered until this film is how she must have felt a loss of her femininity, her womanhood. How much harder it was to be not only a mother to three daughters–but also a wife and a woman.

This film has been reviewed negatively saying that it is melodramatic, unrealistic, and lacks depth. My opinion is something different. I think it is so interesting that people reacted that way, because to me, I feel that those critiques display an inability to identify real, female depth. The depth of this film can be found in the seemingly unrealistic joy, hope, and selflessness with which Magda repeatedly greets fear in her life. In how she relentlessly chooses to give love, understanding, and forgiveness. The realness of this film can be found in the paralleled, true stories of women like my mother.
Just as this film helped me realize that my own mother must have triumphed suffering in an additional dimension I had never considered, I challenge viewers to watch this film and appreciate the magical strength it would actually take to face a challenge in the way that Magda does. Challenge the judgmental gaze that we, as viewers, so often feel entitled to employ. I think this is a similar judgmental gaze through which we, as a society, feel allows us to scrutinize women. If we view this film honestly, and give its magic a real interpretation instead of something created to “make us cry” or “be a tearjerker”, this is when we will see its power. Magda envisions her happiness, she visualizes the goodness even when it is not physically there, and she sources joy from those around her. That is magical and it is real.

Thank you for making this film. I cannot wait to tell my mom about it.