Barcelona-based sales agent Filmax has acquired international rights to Venezuelan director Patricia Ortega’s comedy “Mamacruz,” which competes in World Cinema Dramatic at the Sundance Festival, which kicks off Jan. 19.
The film is produced in Spain by Olmo Figueredo González-Quevedo at La Claqueta and José Alba at Pecado Films, in co-production with Venezuela’s Mandrágora Films. Sara Gómez and Odile Antonio-Baez executive produced.
Toplining Kiti Mánver (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”), “Mamacruz” follows a grandma who accidentally stumbles across some pornographic images on her granddaughter’s tablet, leading her to rediscover her long-forgotten sexuality and desire.
The coming-of-old-age story, co-written by Ortega and José Ortuño (“Ánimas,” “Where Is Marta?”), pays tribute to those women who decide to take the reins of their own destiny.
“During the pandemic we made a very important editorial decision: we wanted to boost the production of positive, bright and hopeful stories. ‘Mamacruz’ is the fruit of that decision,” said producer Olmo Figueredo, co-founder of Seville-based La Claqueta.
“We loved the idea Patricia pitched to us about a woman who has a sexual reawakening in her seventies. A coming-of-old-age story, in which the words sin and guilt give way to others, such as enjoyment, discovery and pleasure.”
“The selection of ‘Mamacruz’ by Sundance is extremely relevant,” said Iván Díaz, head of international at Filmax.
He added: “It is just more proof that the industry in the U.S., as well as the rest of the world, is now paying attention to stories and voices that didn’t get much of a look-in on the big screen. A film like ‘Mamacruz,’ which is feminine, dynamic, optimistic and gives voice to the elderly and to outsiders, is now much better received on the international market and we’re sure that the buyers at Sundance will see it the same way.”
Filmax will be releasing “Mamacruz” in Spanish theaters.
Ortega, whose previous film, drama “Being Impossible,” was chosen as Venezuela’s entry for the 2019 Oscars race, chatted with Variety before “Mamacruz” world premieres at Sundance on Jan. 20.
“Mamacruz” is a coming of age for elder people, which combines humor and eroticism. Tell me a bit about the story.
Cruz is a religious and very conventional grandmother, who works as a seamstress making alterations to the clothes of the saints in her church. Her daughter, Carlota, travels to another country to audition for a very important role as a dancer, so Cruz must take care of her granddaughter. Faced with this situation, the internet becomes the only tool to communicate with her daughter, so Cruz, with the help of her granddaughter, learns to use video calls. But what happens when you put technology in inexperienced hands? Well, anything. Cruz has an accidental encounter with pornography and what at first was a source of shame and guilt gradually turns into a rediscovery of her sexuality and her fantasies.
You said the inspiration for the movie was a picture of your mother.
The final shot of the film is a tribute to that photograph I found of my mother, to the energy of youth, joy, and mischief that I discovered in that photo. For me, the final shot of “Mamacruz” is the landmark image of the story, just as the portrait of my mother was a landmark image: Pleasure as a symbol of freedom.
The film portrays a woman in Spain’s Seville, with its deep Catholic traditions. What should international audiences expect to experience in your feature?
“Mamacruz” is a story that started out as Venezuelan, at some point had a Colombian partner, then almost became an Argentine film, and finally ended up as a Spanish film. I worked on a universal plot: a conventional person, limited by her own beliefs, who, due to an event in life, decides to fight her fears and prejudices to experiment that she had never dared to experiment. This experience is not only lived by a religious lady in Seville, regardless of the world, it is a struggle of many people.
How did you work with the cast, especially with leading actress Kiti Mánver?
In the direction of actors I worked using improvisation as the main tool, to discover the gestures of each character, so that each actress could internalize the motivations, emotions and desires of each character, above all, so that each actress could contribute to the growth of the character, looking for naturalness in each word, in each gesture.
I was not interested in the dialogues being memorized, nor did I follow the actions of the script to the letter. The script was a sketch, a starting point, which helped us to find the characters in the shoes of the actresses. The writing of the film through the bodies of the actresses was alive until the last shot, always growing.
I’m convinced that the magic that we need to exist, for a story to materialize, is only born when you do not fully control what happens on set, when you open the window to creation and the unexpected.
Could you give us some details about the movie’s visual concept?
The general concept of the film is based on the need to draw the dramatic arc of the character through the composition, the color palette and the light atmosphere. Initially, the film begins with a monochromatic atmosphere, without contrasts, to gradually become a space of warm tones and chiaroscuro, nuances and multiple textures.
Mirrors and reflective surfaces were also important, I wanted my character to be constantly reflected. However, she was never aware of her own reflection, until the end, when she finally found herself.
For me it is very important that each shot tells the story, for example, we do not delve into the conflicts that exist between Cruz and her husband, but we definitely express them in the place they occupy within each frame, always separated, distant, incommunicado, until finally, the germ of a new possibility is born.
The film is a Spain-Venezuela co-production. Could you place it in the context of the state of cinema production in both countries?
Venezuela and Spain have totally different realities. In Spain there is a growing industry, which, although it has its limitations and conflicts, has a national fund, local funds and tax incentives. It also has alliances with other European countries and other financing networks that can be accessed. In the case of Venezuela, the situation is totally different. Political and economic instability makes raising the financing of feature films and closing co-productions with South America and Europe quite complex.
What are some things you can, or hope to achieve at Sundance?
I hope we can expand the distribution possibilities of “Mamacruz.” We are also looking for potential partners for our new feature film project.
What’s the kind of cinema you’re interested in making in the future?
I’m interested in telling stories that question social constructs that define our bodies, identity and gender. At this moment I am working on my new project, “Nueve Lunas,” which precisely addresses that approach. The film approaches a high concept from a totally different point of view. I like to explore, play, challenge myself as a filmmaker and, of course, question my own concepts. The more I question myself, the more I find myself as a director.