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Social realist drama from Northwestern Spain depicts an energetic middle-aged mother on the verge of a mental breakdown - from the 73 Berlin International Film Festival


Entirely spoken in Galician (a feat almost unheard of in festival circuit until Oliver Laxe released Fire Will Come four years ago in Cannes), Matria forces viewers to wear the shoes of Ramona (Maria Vazquez), a 40-something-year-old mother toiling at a local cleaning business. She lives with her alcoholic, cold and sexist husband Andres (Santi Prego), and their pretty and independent daughter Estrella (probably in her late teens). Despite her menial job and loveless marriage, she keeps a positive, energetic attitude in life. She has a sharp tongue and a great sense of humour: she is the perfect friend with whom to share a friendly drink. But she also has a fiery temperament and impulsive personality, which will land her in hot water more times than one.

Originally conceived as a short film project for Berlinale Talents, Álvaro Gago’s debut feature offers some realistic insight into the lives of ordinary Galicians and the region’s landscape. Galicia’s rugged coast, its large estuaries dramatically cutting through the communities, is intimately connected with its inhabitants. Many of these people rely on fishing and seafood harvesting (often by hand) for their survival. Galicia is the fatherland (Patria). Ramona too is a provider (Matria).

Ramona’s employers inform their staff that they are about to cut their wages. She will soon be making the same €5 per hour she used to earn eight years earlier. Our protagonist becomes infuriated and storms out of the building, but not before dropping a loud and clear “go fuck yourself” to her boss. This vulgar phrase become her motto as she begins to have a meltdown: she insults anyone who dares to stand on her way. Her husband promptly blames Ramona for losing her job, and becomes another deserving target of the f-word. She seeks a work opportunity at a fish canning factory, but is abruptly turned down due to lack of experience. Once again, her favourite insult proves very handy.

Job opportunities are extremely scarce in one of the poorest regions of Spain, the country with one of the largest unemployment rates of Europe. Ramona’s success chances are mostly confined to the seafood for which the Spanish region of Galicia is internationally recognised: canning fish, harvesting mussels and other types of seafood on a maritime vessel or even on the beach. But labour is abundant, and Ramona is warned that she can be easily replaced. So she settles as the informal carer and assistant of an old man called Pepe, who used to know her grandfather. Not the career ladder of anyone’s dreams. Our protagonist is aware that she is no role model. She threatens her daughter: “don’t you dare to become like me”.

Matria is not a misery fest. There are moments of profound beauty and also some hilarious dialogues. At one point, Ramona and her female friends lock the male pundits out of the local bar and have an impromptu celebration of empowerment. Vazquez’s performance is bursting with authenticity. She embodies a strong and obstinate woman fully aware of her charisma, of her charms, but also of her limited prospects. The future is not bright for a 40-year-old working-class woman seeking pastures green being after stuck in a rut for a good two decades.

Matria has just premiered in the Panorama section of the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 24-02-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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