MOTHER AND CHILD


Dir. Rodrigo Garcia. USA. 2009.

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Rodrigo Garcia's fourth full feature is a mulit-narrative storyline you would expect from executive producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), in the form of a cross-generational, cross-cultural boundaries in Los Angeles which revolves around the lives of 3 women who are unexpectedly entwined based upon the roles of mother and child.

Featuring some amazing performances by Annette Bening and Naomi Watts, the film intially starts off in this ambivalent mood as all three women - add in Kerry Washington for the multi-racial point of view - fail to endear themselves to the audience let alone the men in the picture.

The men in question are playing by formidable men who are playing weaker male stereotypes and inversions of their screen personas; Paul (Samuel L. Jackson) and Paco (Jimmy Smits) are rather secondary to proceedings, yet in spite of this lack of narrative thrust the natural charisma of both actors do shine out of very one-dimensional characters.

The first half with Karen (Bening) playing the spinster and lonely old maid comes to the fore, whilst Elizabeth (Watts) the daughter that Karen gave up at birth plays a bunny-boiler with a real coldness and hostility; yet both females have to go through an abundant change in their identity and character. 

Karen loses her mother so can embrace the opportunity of romance with Paco instead of refusing it as she is indebted to the law of the mother, whilst Elizabeth surprisingly as a career woman yet one who has been abandoned at birth - does not want to do the same to her unborn child.  Watts reaction to the doctor who presumes she wants and will have an abortion is noteworthy.

Bening also starts to win us over by becoming a surrogate grandmother to her cleaner's daughter, allowing her the chance to play mum which she refused herself. 

Lucy (Washington) is planning to adopt with her husband, yet she has to alter her social circle.  Unfortunately, Lucy's strand (much like me mentioning her in this review) is somewhat lost in the shuffle - and yet Ms. Washington provides the most cathartic moment in the movie when she breaks down at the hospital following the birth of her surrogate child.

The theme of abortion in the film is neither for nor against, yet it is clear to point out that no-one wins and that everybody loses out at some point.

This is more a film about female roles in society and the social dynamic of the family group.  Karen becomes a Mother only after she stops being a child once her mother dies; Elizabeth is ready to become a Mother only when it is thrust upon her by an unplanned pregnancy; whilst Lucy is not fit to be a Mother and is only told to be one and act like one by her own Mother.

It can be interpreted as a Terms of Endearment without the bond that was in that film between Shirly MacLaine and Debra Winger - whereas that had larger than life male characters who desire women; in Mother and Child the men are both middle-aged and content to settle down.  Paul offers the world to Liz if she is pregnant with his child, and Paco is anointed an angel sent to comfort and support the spinster Karen.  Lucy's husband, Joseph (David Ramsey) disappears altogether at one point and Elizabeth's affair with her neighbour Steven (Marc Blucas) is swept away - so there are narrative flaws in a two hour film, albeit a two hour film that does not drag nor have you checking your watch after barely one, as with some Hollywood films.

The female empowerment aesthetic does begin to grate after a while, although the respect Garcia has for his character's is never in doubt and it is is exhiliarating to see an actor like Bening firing on all cylinders.

The plot can be described as hackneyed and telegraphed, yet a plot full of cliche is elevated by the 3 main women and notable support by Cherry Jones as Sister Joanne, a Nun who encounters each at various moments in the film.

Mother and Child is released nationwide in selected cinemas on January 6th, 2012,  by Verve Pictures and is a Mockingbird Pictures production in association with Everest Entertainment.

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Rodrigo Garcia (director of Mother and Child) allowed me his time on the phone from Los Angeles to talk briefly about his new film being released in the UK on Friday 6th January, 2012 by Verve Pictures. 

What is the appeal to you of women in your work?
I dont know, I first wrote the script in my mid to late 30s and found that the men I was writing were all too similar to each other or myself, and writing women allowed me more tools to approach the story with.  They were more complex and more varied from one another.  But I would not say I am a feminist director with a pro-women agenda, as I feel female characters are more satisfying for me and my work.

What was the genesis for Mother and Child? 
I had been working on the script on and off for nine years, the most complicated thing was the structure of putting together Karen's story from 35 years ago up to the present day combining with events that take place but not necessarily at the same time.  And then the problem with independent cinema in America especially, is that you can have a good script but you need a big name actress/actor to sell to financiers. 


I read that Naomi was the first person you went to in that respect?
Naomi was one of the first but my ideas of actors always changed, and then when we approached her she was pregnant so we waited for her to give birth, but that is her tummy for real in the movie.  And the sex scene she shot just 5 weeks after giving birth.

I found Annette Bening's performance to be outstanding, how did she come on board?
Well, again Annette was one of the first people we approached but due to family commitments she could not commit herself and then Naomi fell pregnant and so the window was open for her to take part.  I felt her work was first rate on set but only in the editing suite did the appreciation of her work take shape as she went from misanthrope to a sympathetic grandmother.

What was your research for the three women and their backgrounds?
I did research about adoption mostly, but for the women I felt Karen had to be near 50 and no longer able to have children.  Elizabeth had to be 35 yet successful in her career but still able to bear children and Lucy had to be near 30 and unable to.  Its about the calendar and how it relates to people being able to have children.

What is the appeal of multi-strand cinema and why is it so apparent in Latin American cinema? 
I was not conscience of it, and it is seemingly a coincidence because Magnolia has it, Robert Altman has it, Crash had it, it is good for cinema were flukes and destiny are thrusts to the narrative.  

Were you nervous shooting a sex scene between a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) and white woman (Watts), still a taboo subject in Hollywood? 
I did not feel race was an issue in the film and it did not compel me.  What interested me most about race was giving Karen an african-american child - a child she could be close to in terms of proximity and yet be different from her.  Karen also falls in love with a Latino man, something that she did not anticipate or presume to happen.
The sex scene I felt had to be about more than just sex and tell us something about Elizabeth - her sexuality, her career, her relationships, her identity.

Its taken a while for this film to reach our shores, in hindsight would you have changed anything? 
Oh definitely, you know Truffaut used to say 'you start every film hoping it to be a masterpiece, and at the end you are relieved it is breathing'. The movie is a version of what you had hoped for, however I am happy with work of actresses and satisfied with it definitely.

And on that lovely note, I bid farwell to Mr.Garcia wishing him every luck for the future.

Mother and Child is released from Verve Pictures on Friday 6th January in selected cinemas nationwide.
Jamie Garwood

 
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