Throughout Israeli helmer Limor Pinhasov’s film about a Bolivian woman who returns home after toiling for 15 years in Tel Aviv to support her family, one is hard-pressed to remember that “A Working Mom” is actually a documentary and not a superior soap opera, so immediate, varied and intense are the emotional reactions detonated by Marisa’s arrival in Cochabamba. Vivid, highly evocative film (up for an Ophir award) lacks the topical hooks for Stateside play, but Spanish-language “Mom” should easily find niche on cable.
Marisa has entrusted her two children to the care of her parents, sending money home to cover the kids’ expenses and schooling and build a house for the three of them. She returns to find the children resentful of her absence, her house the mere shell of an immense structure designed for far more than three, and her parents madly paranoid about the Bolivian boyfriend she met in Israel.
Her parents take malicious glee in forcing her to choose between her “macho” and her children. Stuck in her parents’ house, unable to take her children if she moves in with her lover, Marisa’s unhappiness further alienates her kids.
Pinhasov has filled her film with intimate shots of expressive faces: Marisa’s, filled with apprehension at the thought of meeting the teenage children she hasn’t seen since they were toddlers; her daughter, streaming with tears impatiently brushed away as she explains she has never known the love of a mother; her son’s as he spins an alternate parental fantasy around his absentee father; Marisa’s mother’s wrinkled visage as she tells of the 11 grandchildren she has raised for ungrateful offspring scattered all over the globe, or her rage as she threatens to kill Marisa’s boyfriend, whom she is convinced has taken enormous sums of money from Marisa.
But perhaps the silent scenes communicate most eloquently, like the “Stella Dallas” moment when Marisa watches parents kiss their progeny goodbye at school, realizing what she has missed. In the film’s extraordinary final sequence, Marisa shares some quiet magic at the circus with her small niece and nephew, having been rejected by her own son and daughter.
Though Marisa’s story is typical of a country whose residents must seek work beyond its borders, the vividness of its sense of place resonates dramatically. Marisa visits Jerusalem before leaving Israel, and ascends to the Cristo de la Concordia statue above Cochabamba once she gets home, these pilgrimages serving as a reassessment of her position in the landscape. Similarly, Marisa’s parents’ house acquires symbolic weight, repeatedly seen from different angles and different times of day in inexorable establishing shots.
Virtually everything in Bolivia reads exotically native or blandly foreign, be it a colorfully costumed boy playing a pan flute or the clocks recording time in different parts of the world at the ritzy hotel where the overwhelmed Marisa spends her first week back home.
Tech credits are impressive throughout.