by Marta Bałaga
- BERLINALE 2023: Galician director Álvaro Gago introduces us to Ramona – and she’s had enough
Now here comes another film where anxiety drips from every frame straight onto your lap. A movie where watching a normal woman simply trying to make ends meet quickens your pulse. It’s hard to say why, as Álvaro Gago shows a pretty ordinary existence in his Berlinale Panorama offering Matria [+see also:
interview: Álvaro Gago
film profile]. But this constant struggle, the constant fear of running out of time and money, is so relatable that with another soundtrack, it would just read like a pure thriller.
Some of it comes down to cinematographer Lucía C Pan, practically running after Matria’s heroine. She has not a minute to waste, no time to herself – and predictably, nobody really notices. Living in a Galician fishing village and juggling multiple gigs, she is still not financially secure – far from it. Last year, a wealthy celebrity told women to “get their ass up and work”. Here’s the thing, though – they do. A lot. And it still doesn’t pay enough to actually have a life.
Arthouse cinema loves women like Ramona (María Vázquez), like Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night [+see also:
interview: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
film profile] and like Hayley Squires in I, Daniel Blake [+see also:
film profile]. They are struggling but strong, mostly because they have to be, because they have families to think about, because not surviving is not an option. What makes Matria interesting, however, is that Gago doesn’t glorify the pain or the sacrifice. Ramona keeps on fighting and yelling, but when she finally stops, it feels almost shocking. There is a realisation that maybe there is no prize for martyrdom after all. That maybe you deserve more than a cigarette break or a rare night out – especially if your drunk partner has already managed to spoil it.
A continuation, of sorts, of Gago’s earlier short – with its star making an appearance here, too – Matria is inspired by a real-life firecracker. And it shows. Despite some familiar beats, Ramona feels real and fun to follow, even though one can run out of breath. She’s fun not because her life is a barrel of laughs, but because she has no filter: she is funny, and is quick to mock herself and others. And yet she still fails herself, in a way, complaining that “God had some eyesight problems” when creating the place she calls home, yet staying put. She worries about her daughter’s relationship, yet lives with a man she doesn’t even like any more.
But even this lack of consistency makes her feel human, a smart-as-a-whip girl who at one point turned into a woman who is just slaving away, always on the hunt for another job – and none of them pays well. Something has to change, and entering the home of a recently widowed man, grumpy at first and then grateful for the company, is the first step.
Another one of the growing slew of Spanish films that focus on particular regions, embracing their specificities and local languages – last year’s Berlinale winner Alcarràs [+see also:
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Giovanni Pompili
film profile] springs to mind – Matria doesn’t ignore the problems, but still finds some warmth in the nooks and crannies. It’s a welcome take on social cinema, one that doesn’t just destroy the viewers, but rather follows Dolly Parton’s priceless advice: “They let you dream, Just to watch them shatter, You are just a step on the boss man’s ladder, But you got dreams he will never take away.”
Matria was written by Álvaro Gago, and was produced by Spain’s Matriuska Producciones, Avalon Productora Cinematográfica, Elastica Films and Ringo Media. New Europe Film Sales is in charge of its international sales.
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