Why hasn’t he come back?
A woman (Marta Nieto‘s Marta) and her mother (Blanca Apilánez) arrive at the former’s apartment talking about men. Marta speaks about friends, her mother leans into romanticism when the subject of a handsome gentleman comes up, and some jealousy arrives when it’s explained that he’s already attached to someone else. The stakes are thus very low at the start of Rodrigo Sorogoyen‘s short film Madre [Mother]—innocuous, every day fodder to create conflict where none exists as a means for intrigue. We are thus allowed to soak in the expensive setting with birch tree columns as the camera pans around corners to keep the whole a one-take affair. Only when the phone rings do we realize there’s something missing and that its absence can prove monumentally devastating.
This lost piece to the puzzle is Marta’s six-year old son Iván (Álvaro Balas) away on vacation with his father. Unfortunately, however, the boy’s dad is nowhere to be found. Iván smartly calls his mother to explain the situation as best he can in the aftermath. They got to the beach only to discover his toys were left in the car. So Dad chooses to get them by leaving his son in the sand to play. Eventually Iván can’t help realizing he’s completely alone with too much time having passed. There’s nobody else in or by the water and no landmarks with which to describe over the phone. All he thinks he knows is that they crossed the border from Spain to France. The rest is anyone’s guess.
What follows is therefore the harrowing experience of a mother desperate to save her child despite having no means with which to do so. Compounding it is the worry on her own mother’s face as the rage and fear takes hold. It’s new school thinking and agitation (Marta screaming on the phone to the police and ready to drive to every French beach in existence) versus old school thinking and calm (Apilánez’s character attempting to soothe her daughter and get her to follow law enforcement’s protocol whether or not circumstances are more direr than that system can handle). One contradiction meets the next until the initial hope that some Good Samaritan will turn up to save Iván gets replaced by the uncertain nightmare trusting a stranger can ultimately create.
Is that sense of futility enough? I’m sure many parents would be quick to say, “Yes.” This scenario has “worst case” heft that will get anyone’s mind racing about what they’d do in a similar situation, allowing the film to be judged on a subjectively emotional level wherein you as the viewer project yourself onto the action. Despite there definitely being merit to that experience, though, I couldn’t help feeling unfulfilled. My mind wanted to figure out why the beach was empty and why the father would leave his child alone. I wanted to know the bigger narrative picture of what’s happening—something Sorogoyen ignores for visceral power. The result is an authentic punch to the gut, but it has nowhere to go. Substance gets ignored for impact.