Eroticism is in the details in Patricia Ortega’s “Mamacruz.” [Sundance Film Festival]

When director Patricia Ortega found a revealing picture of her mother as a young woman, scantily clad in an open bathrobe, she didn’t recoil in embarrassment. She made a movie about it. Ortega was surprised by such a blatant display of sexuality from a Catholic woman whom she had only ever known as a mother, and she wanted to explore the role of passion, desire, and sexuality in older women. The main character of her film, Mamacruz, is a 70-something-year-old grandmother who earns a living doing small sewing jobs and taking care of the icons and figurines in the local Catholic Church. Cruz (Kiti Mánver) is also learning how to use a tablet so she can keep in touch with her daughter, who is in a dance company in Vienna. When Cruz accidentally stumbles upon pornography while messing around on the tablet, she begins a journey of self-discovery and seeks to reignite her sense of passion and pleasure. Despite the strictness of her religious community and the societal expectations for women her age, Cruz finds that there’s a lot more she could be getting out of life.

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Kiti Mánver appears in MAMACRUZ by Patricia Ortega, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Mamacruz tells an important and necessary story. While some popular filmmakers would still have us believe that sexual desire in anyone who isn’t straight, young, and perfectly in shape is nothing more than comedic, other filmmakers, like Ortega, ask their audiences to take sexuality seriously in characters of all ages, sizes, abilities, and sexual orientations. However, even though Mamacruz is a movie about sex, it’s no Bridgerton or 50 Shades of Grey. It doesn’t have a lot of nudity or intense sex scenes. It’s a slow-moving and reflective film that focuses on the simple moments of everyday life. The plot is straightforward and uncomplicated, and even the most exciting scenes feel contained and controlled. When things get tense between Cruz and her daughter or husband, there’s no shouting, eloquent speeches, or intense music. There’s only the calm, unpretentious dialogue and Cruz’s ever-thoughtful expressions. Mánver does an excellent job portraying an emotionally and sexually repressed grandmother. It seems like she’s constantly on the brink of some big internal discovery, but she remains quiet, calm, collected, and thoughtful throughout. Even the sets and costumes all blur together into one boring beige backdrop. Aside from a few scenes that are dressed up with bright colors and fiery music to illustrate Cruz’s sexual awakening, the movie is seemingly flat and minimalist. Because Mamacruz is so subdued and controlled, viewers may find themselves losing interest after 30 minutes or so. The first third of the movie feels like it’s going in a circle, hashing out the same conflict without making any significant steps toward a resolution. However, it’s clear that Ortega didn’t make Mamacruz to please everyone. While Mamacruz doesn’t have much fire or passion on the surface, there are a handful of sequences that are just as passionate and erotic as other movies about sex. Viewers who have the patience to look for the treasure in the details of the movie will have a lot to discover.

Although the world that Cruz inhabits may seem dull, it’s filled with love and passion. From the soap operas she watches on TV to the oddly erotic religious figurines that she paints, Mamacruz is surrounded by sensuality. All the random trinkets and photographs around her house, like pictures of her mother and the heart-shaped swan figurine on her nightstand, reveal the secret passion and love in her life. These carefully placed items show us that Cruz has ignored her own sensuality for so long that it has faded into the background of her life. As the film goes on, however, these details become easier to notice. Ortega highlights the hidden parts of Cruz’s life with intimate closeups and carefully planned framing. The cinematography and shot composition are the strongest technical aspects of Mamacruz, and it is in these technical aspects that we can find the most meaningful parts of the story. You can tell a lot about Cruz’s relationship with her husband by the way they stand in the frame together. You begin to notice the bright colors of the religious figurines when the camera lingers over them in slow, deliberate sequences. Ortega also draws attention to the sensuality of everyday moments with closeups of Cruz’s hands, lips, eyes, and other parts of her body as she sews, cooks, and gets dressed. The cinematography also emphasizes textured items like fabric and nail files, inviting the audience to slow down and experience the world in a more sensual way. While Mamacruz may not be the most explicitly erotic or visually exciting movie, it’s packed with sensual details that remind us that sex is about so much more than nudity.

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Kiti Mánver appears in MAMACRUZ by Patricia Ortega, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

There are a lot of movies that are made to entertain, but Mamacruz isn’t one of them. It’s supposed to make us slow down and appreciate our senses. If you have the patience and you’re in the right mood, you can learn a lot from this film. Ortega understands that the Hollywoodized version of sexuality is designed to entertain and seduce, not to reveal truth. So, rather than telling an exciting and dramatic story, she tells a realistic story about a slow mental and emotional transformation. Cruz doesn’t rediscover her sexuality in big dramatic scenes, but in subtle everyday moments. For Cruz, it’s not just about nudity, porn, and physical passion. It’s about being honest and true to herself in every aspect of her life. It’s about having the confidence to stop wearing restrictive shapewear and be proud of her body. It’s about making a connection with other women her age. It’s about the erotic excitement of her husband zipping up her dress for her. It’s about working on her relationship with her daughter. It’s about finding joy in her work and in each and every moment of her day. Ortega shows us that Cruz’s sexuality is intimately connected with every other part of her life, and it’s not something that should be suppressed and hidden. Mamacruz is a humble, unpresumptuous movie with clear intentions and a simple message, and it doesn’t resort to cheap tricks to keep the audience engaged. At first, the story may seem odd and out of place (how many movies can you think of about grandmothers discovering porn?) And yet, like the picture of Ortega’s mother, Mamacruz represents one of the most common and natural things in the world.

Screening during the Sundance Film Festival 2023.

For more information, head to the official MamaCruz Sundance Film Festival webpage.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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