Review by Sean Boelman
There are hundreds of films about a protagonist going through a sexual awakening, but it’s unlikely that you’ve ever seen one quite like MAMACRUZ. An honest, often very funny portrait of sexuality from a unique perspective, Patricia Ortega’s dramedy might have some aspects that feel underdeveloped, but the concept is certainly one that is interesting.
The movie follows an older, conservative Christian woman who finds herself at odds with her faith when she accidentally discovers internet pornography. There are several directions in which this story could have gone — a farcical comedy, a bleak religious drama — but what we get from Patricia Ortega is something altogether different.
It’s certainly refreshing to see a film about a sexual awakening that does not present itself in a traditional way. Most sexual awakening movies are told from the perspective of someone who is stereotypically “sexual” — teenagers, young adults, even sometimes through a midlife crisis — but it’s nice to see a film about the generally taboo issue of sexuality in older people.
There’s obviously something inherently humorous about watching a 60+ year old woman stumbling her way through porn sites, but the movie never feels like we are laughing at the protagonist. Instead, it feels like what we are watching is a very universal experience, and it’s quite endearing as such.
Unfortunately, much of the character work in the film feels underdeveloped. While Cruz is likable, little background is given to inform her motivations. We see glimpses of her relationship with her husband and daughter, but they are very superficial and do little more than show us her general discontentment with her life. It feels like, outside of her sexual awakening, there is little to make Cruz an interesting character that we want to follow.
Still, actress Kiti Mánver (who has over 120 credits to her name) gives a performance that, in any filmography, would be considered a crowning achievement. She approaches the role in a way that is not too serious to lose its sense of humor, but also with enough sincerity for it to feel entirely authentic.
The most interesting part of the movie — at least from a technical standpoint — is Fran Fernández Pardo’s cinematography. This is obviously very intimate subject matter, and the shooting style matches that intimacy. Ortega has an interesting vision of Cruz’s world — a generally muted and mundane suburbia infused with momentary flashes of color and brightness.
MAMACRUZ might not succeed in exploring all of the themes it sets out to explore, but it is at least admirable for doing something that few films have dared to do in the past. Couple that with an insanely strong performance from Kiti Mánver, and it’s a mostly compelling dramedy.
MAMACRUZ is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.