Penélope Cruz stars as a saintly breast cancer sufferer in Julio Medem’s terminal illness melodrama Ma Ma.
Lady Madonnaby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In this sentimental Penélope Cruz vehicle, she plays Magda, a saintly mother who is diagnosed with breast cancer just as she loses her job as a teacher and her husband, a philosophy lecturer, leaves her for one of his students. After receiving this traumatic news at the hospital, she goes on to watch her young son Dani (Teo Planell), a talented footballer, play in a match. There she meets Arturo (Luis Tosar), a scout for Real Madrid. As they are talking, he receives news that his daughter has been killed in a car crash and his wife is in a coma. He collapses and Magda takes him to the hospital where his family are.
Supporting each other through their suffering in the following weeks, they are drawn closer together. Magda sends Dani to stay with relatives for the summer so she can undergo gruelling chemotherapy and a mastectomy on her own without worrying him. Arturo’s wife dies some time later. Seemingly only a week or so later, Magda, Arturo and Dani effortlessly start to bond as a new family when they take a holiday at the seaside. There’s a cut to a heart beating, an image that recurs periodically.
But life has yet more melodrama in store for Magda. Some months later her doctor Julián (Asier Etxeandia), is a singing gynaecologist (what are the chances of that?), who seems to have unlimited time for her even though he is at a public hospital. He becomes her friend and, as well as serenading her, tells her the cancer has spread since the operation and is now incurable. Then she discovers she’s pregnant. Will she live long enough to see her longed-for daughter born? She keeps seeing, as part of her new family, a recurring vision of the blonde Siberian orphan (Anna Jimenez) that Julián and his wife were planning to adopt. It’s yet another person she wants to take care of.
Penélope Cruz is luminous and with the force of her charisma holds the film together as the suffering madonna, unbelievably cheerful and selfless throughout her protracted ordeal – and with her looks bearing no brunt of her terminal cancer. She has three adoring men to support her though we don’t see any female friends. Julián even comes to the beach to examine her (rather questionably in the sea, while she is seven months pregnant) while she is on a holiday to celebrate the anniversary of getting together with Arturo. Her errant ex-husband (Alex Brendemuhl) returns to beg for forgiveness and pledge his support to Raul and the children when they will be left alone to cope after her death. Tosar, as her love interest Arturo, has little to do other than look anguished whilst his wife is dying or tender, loving and supportive when he gets together with Magda. The film itself, though tastefully shot, is a huge tear-jerker and the final scene is mawkish. Have your hankies ready.
Ma Ma is released on 24 July 2016 in the UK.