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‘Mamífera’ Review: Engaging, Well-Acted Spanish Drama About an Unexpected Pregnancy

SPOILER ALERT: The last two paragraphs of this review contains spoilers.

“Mamífera” introduces 40-year-old Lola (Maria Rodríguez Soto) having tender sex with boyfriend Bruno (Enric Auquer), standing up in the shower. Then, sitting on their bed, they dry off together, him seated behind her, carefully using a hairdryer on her hair, and at one point playfully directing its jet of warm air down the front of her panties. In this short but intimate sequence, writer-director Liliana Torres conjures worlds of easy, contented empathy between two people who know each other’s bodies very well indeed, but have not grown remotely tired of one another.

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Unbeknownst to Lola and Bruno, their bond is about to be tested by a pregnancy so unexpected that it isn’t detected until 10 weeks gestation. It’s worlds away from the experience of Lola’s friend Judit (Ruth Llopis), who is coincidentally trying to conceive via IVF, and is caught in a treadmill of hormones and the torture of the so-called two-week wait, as she prays that embryo implantation has been successful. Naturally, there’s a horrible irony to Lola’s situation, as she keeps tactfully quiet about having accidentally attained her friend’s fondest desire.

What the film does so well is to bring nuance to Lola’s situation. She isn’t portrayed as the kind of sleek careerist or hard-living hot mess that is usually the sort to have their world turned upside-down by a surprise pregnancy in Hollywood films. She is a warm, well-adjusted, capable adult, working as an art professor, happy in her stable relationship with Bruno, and from many people’s perspectives, including her abortion clinic consultant, an ideal candidate for motherhood. The clinic requires that she go away and think for three days about whether she really wants to end the pregnancy before they will help her, and it’s this three-day period of time that forms the majority of the film’s runtime.

Rodríguez Soto won a special jury award at SXSW for her performance, and it’s not hard to see why. Her take on Lola is the sort of likable, naturalistic turn that makes spending time with the character incredibly easy, even during the moments where what she’s going through is difficult. She maintains a sense of believable inner conflict, as the majority of signals she receives from friends and society about the value of having children clash with her longstanding sense of herself as someone who is perfectly happy to remain childfree.

One of the film’s more offbeat gambits is the use of dream-like animated sequences by María José Garcés Larrain, created in a similar style to Lola’s own collage-based art, which uses magazine cut-outs in a similar style to British artist Linder Sterling’s photomontages. In the animations, Lola’s mental landscape is laid out, with baby iconography and relatives and friends and boyfriend all competing for attention, as versions of Lola attempt to navigate her thoughts around potential motherhood.

The other unusual thing about the film — and please do look away here if you would like to avoid knowing how it ends — is that Lola proceeds with the abortion, and that this is not portrayed as a miserable thing. It is undoubtedly emotional, but the focus is very much on what that choice means for Lola and her life; the emotions spool from that sense of a momentous decision taken, and what is enabled by that choice, rather than an idea of loss or negativity.

This subtlety is rare and welcome. There’s a strong tendency in the unexpected pregnancy subgenre to favor a surprise twist decision, however the character has initially been portrayed, to proceed with the pregnancy. This is perhaps partly due to political pressure, whether overt or ambient, from anti-abortionists, and partly due to the quirks of structured narrative storytelling, in which having a character make a decision to do something or change the status quo can feel like it makes for a more naturally appealing arc. Kudos to Torres for creating, much like her protagonist, a thoroughly engaging and warm-hearted model for resisting those social and formal pressures.

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