Directed by: Rodrigo Sorogoyen | 129 minutes | drama | Actors: Marta Nieto, Jules Porier, Alex Brendemühl, Anne Consigny, Frédéric Pierrot, Guillaume Arnault, Blanca Apilánez, Álvaro Balas, Pablo Cobo, Raúl Prieto
The short film ‘Madre’ (2017) was nominated for an Oscar in the category Best Live Action Short Film in 2019. In this short, we see Elena getting a call from her six-year-old son Iván in her Spanish apartment. He is on vacation with his father (Elena’s ex) and was left behind by him on the beach. The tension is nail-biting, because the battery of the mobile Iván uses is almost empty, the boy cannot indicate where he is in France, the beach is empty except for one man, who approaches Iván threateningly. Mad with anxiety, Elena leaves – looking for her son without knowing exactly where she should be on the French coast…
You often wonder how it ends with open-ended movies like this. Rodrigo Sorogoyen answers the question of how his short film ends with the feature film ‘Madre’. Or actually not. The film starts with the full short film and then jumps to ten years later. We see Elena in her new environment on the beach. She works in a beach bar and lives in a simple apartment. You can tell from her body language that Iván is still missing. Here stands a broken woman, scarred by life. If Iván had been alive, he would no doubt have been with her.
Elena turns out to have spent the ten years her son went missing at this French seaside town – overrun by tourists in the summer and cold and lonely in the winter. She has a new boyfriend, with whom she seems happy, but she doesn’t lose the stigma of ‘that crazy woman on the beach who lost her son’. In Jean, a sixteen-year-old boy who is on holiday with his parents in Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains, where ‘Madre’ is set, Elena recognizes something. Without words, we understand that she has the idea that this might be her son. On a whim, she chases him to his vacation address. A day later, Jean comes to visit her at the beach cafe and their relationship slowly develops.
That relationship – that’s where ‘Madre’ goes a bit wrong. For Jean’s motives are clear; Despite being almost 25 years older than the adolescent boy, Elena is very attractive and the teen is flattered by her attention. Jean seems to feel superior to his peers and his friendship with Elena provides him with an interesting edge. He also realizes very well that he is challenging his parents with this. But why Elena insists on meeting Jean, Sorogoyen does not fully reveal. Is it maternal feelings she feels for the curly haired head or does she prefer to go along with his puppy love? A little less refinement would not have gone amiss in the film, because as a viewer it is more difficult to go along with Elena’s, sometimes irrational, actions.
‘Madre’ is beautifully filmed and very well acted. You can’t take your eyes off the couple. The beach scenes are a symbol of life: you can’t stop the tide, but at the same time, history sometimes seems to repeat itself (which is rather garishly indicated in a late scene). The hidden tension in the film promises more than is ultimately delivered – but at the same time you feel that any other outcome could not have been possible. Watch ‘Madre’ for that unparalleled start and the amazing Marta Nieto. Rodrigo Sorogoyen (‘El reino’, ‘Que Dios nos perdone’) remains a director to keep an eye on anyway.