a mi madre le gustan las mujeres
(my mother likes women)

2004

Written and Directed by: Daniela Fejerman and Inés París

There appear to be two schools of filmmaking in Spain: the films of Pedro Almodovar, and the films of directors who wish they were Pedro Almodovar.

This is one of the latter - a mish-mash of good ideas, some good and bad writing and a cast of quirky characters who try way too hard to be endearingly neurotic. Very Pedro, just not as good.

My Mother Likes Women has two major plots, both of which intertwine in the end to create the story of Elvira and how she grows up to accept not only her mother's interest in women, but her own tendency towards counterproductive, destructive behaviour. This behaviour has ruined her life (romantically and otherwise) until this point, but until now she's been so blind she can't see it.

Elvira is seductively charming, played by Leonore Watling in the Audrey Tautou mould. She's also hopeless, frazzled and seems to suffer from an alarming case of middle-child syndrome. By this I mean she is dominated by her siblings to the point of harrassment, while also being the child her parents overlooked, simply because she was probably the least demanding.

Elvira's mother Sofia, a noteworthy pianist, announces to Elvira and her two siblings (older sister Gimena and younger sister Sol) that she has fallen in love with a woman named Eliska who is Czech, speaks little Spanish and is twenty years her junior. It's hard to tell what the daughters despise more; Eliska's immigrant and impoverished status, her inability to communicate, her lesbianism or her age. All we know is they feel the need to band together and callously plot to ruin Sophia's blossoming relationship. The plan? To trick Eliska into sleeping with someone else and thereby destroying Sophia's fragile trust.

At first the sisters are unable to find a stranger to seduce Eliska - despite a trip to one of the weirdest lesbian bars I've ever seen. The experience excites the sharp-tongued and precocious Sol, who then takes it upon herself to try and seduce her mother's girlfriend. The attempt is so heavy handed and humiliating it is quite painful to watch. Needless to say, it is also unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Elvira begins a tentative relationship with an author from the publishing house where she works. She herself is a frustrated novelist who is unable to get anyone, especially her snide, selfish boss, to read her finished manuscript. The author, Miguel, is attracted to Elvira's creative and beautiful personality, but is also repelled by her immature and inexplicably rude bahaviour.

Elvira eventually begins to understand what her mother sees in Eliska when the young woman offers kindness where she has been shown none. Eliska and Elvira share a night on the town and a tentative friendship begins to seem possible. However, in a moment of drunken passion Elvira inadvertantly manages to succeed where Sol did not. Elvira and Eliska share an inebriated kiss, but Eliska shys away when Elvira indicates she wants to do more.

Humilated, Elvira begs Eliska not to tell Sophia what happened, which leaves Eliska with no alibi for where she has spent the night. Eliska transparently lies to Sophia and the seeds of doubt are born. When Eliska tries to tell the truth Elvira denies it, throwing suspicion upon Eliska and her motives. Finally, seeing no other choice, Eliska unhappily decides to leave and return to her native Prague.

Sophia becomes desperately unhappy and emotionally unstable without Eliska. Seeing the error and selfishness of their ways, the three daughters launch a mission to Prague to rectify their mistakes and hopefully bring some happiness back into their mother's life.

Like many European films My Mother Likes Women likes to walk the tightrope between serious drama and farcical comedy. Unfortunately it's easy to get confused about which is meant to be which, and I'm afraid I may have laughed out loud in the wrong places. Whatever.

A director with more talent would have played more with the complex nature of her characters. The Spanish do have a talent for being delightfully inappropriate though, and this film is no exception. This quality is borne out most through the elder and younger sisters who are just too calculating and crass for words. All three actresses playing the sisters are perfect and play off each other with wicked abandon.

What ruins the film is the supposed lesbian relationship. Ultimately the success of the film lies in how much we care about the wronged lovers, and quite frankly I didn't give a toss about them. The lovers were portrayed as more of a mother/daughter or even teacher/student relationship than anything else, with moments of tenderness and intimacy played so cool and remote I didn't believe for a second these two had ever done anything so intimate as share a cup of coffee let alone be naked in bed together. The hottest kiss in the film is the one shared by Elivira and Eliska. Screw the mother, I was disappointed the film didn't just do a huge U-turn and make Elivira and Eliska a hot couple!

The relationship between Elvira and Miguel doesn't really work either. I can't see what he could possibly be attracted to since she's being a bitch to him almost every time they're together. But he's obviously hooked from the beginning and it is up to Elvira to simply reel him in to provide the film's too-pretty ending.

The really excellent moments, including a fabulous song sung by Sol and her punk band that provides the title for the film, are too few and far between to make this an outstanding film. It is an interesting exercise in farce that in particular highlights the talents of Watling, who is a gifted comedienne. I find it odd to be criticising a European film for its lack of passion or intimacy. The Europeans generally don't shy away from confrontational sexuality, gay or straight. That's what makes this film so confusing. The filmmakers give the actresses free reign in every other aspect of the film. Unfortunately though, in the end the one thing I don't believe is that the mother really likes women.

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