CANNES Q&A: Penelope Cruz on Producing ‘Ma Ma’

Penelope Cruz will be in Cannes today to present “Ma Ma,” which is her first as a producer. In it, she plays Magda, a gutsy mother who battles to overcome tragedy. “Ma Ma” also marks Cruz’s first film with Spanish auteur Julio Medem, who has directed some of the most sensorial, sensual and involved portrayals of feminine sensibility in modern Spanish cinema (“Vacas,” “Lovers of the Arctic Circle,” “Sex and Lucia”). Cruz and Medem talked to Variety exclusively about “Ma Ma,” which bows Monday. “Ma Ma” is being sold at Cannes by Seville Intl., the boutique sales arm of eOne Films Intl. Cruz, Medem and Alvaro Longoria at Spain’s Morena Films produce, in association with France’s Backup Media Group. France’s Mare Nostrum co-produces. CAA represents U.S. rights.

You both live in Los Angeles. Why return to Spain to make a film in Spanish?
Medem: “Ma Ma” is right up my street: Large emotional and dramatic intensity, and it turns on the intimacy of the characters — one woman, two men, played by Luis Tosar and Asier Etxeandia, who love her, and a 10-year-old boy. It’s the first time I portray a character who’s not a woman and lover but a mother. Maternity is key in “Ma Ma.” The tragedy stems from that.
Cruz: A few months ago, Julio gave me the script over lunch. I read it that night and was just bowled over. It’s one of the most complex, most beautiful characters I’ve ever been offered, the most difficult. Some films take years to come together, “Ma Ma” has come together very fast.

Why the move into production?
Cruz: I want to build what could be my future in cinema, not always being in front of the camera. I’d also like to direct a feature, maybe 10 years from now. For now, I’m directing commercial and video-clips; I love that. And it’s the best way to learn. I want to go slowly, step by step. I’m following the whole production process very closely, from the film’s inception.

Julio has suggested that Magda has certain things in common with you.
Cruz: Maybe, she battles for things because all sorts of things happen to her. She’s optimistic. But her pace and energy are different. Acting interests me a great deal more than playing someone very much like myself. The further away she is from me, the more possibilities that offers as an actress. That’s acting: the beauty of risk, facing up to the unknown, placing yourself in the skin of someone you invite into your life for a time, someone who isn’t you.

For ‘Ma Ma,’ you’ve reunited the team of ‘Sex and Lucia’: d.p. Kiko de la Rica, composer Alberto de la Iglesia, and art designer Montse Sanz. Will you also return to the style of ‘Sex and Lucia,’ whose second part offered a total immersion in Lucia’s life?
Medem: “Ma Ma” will be a luminous film, with somewhat overexposed and cold images, strong blues, cold reds and golds. The camera will be constantly at Magda’s side, we’ll sense her feelings and sensations, constantly accompany her. It’s a subjective film, beginning with tragedy, but it’s not about tragedy but rather how to react to tragedy, a film that creates a desire to live, to be happy.

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