Mammoth - a depressing film about being lonely


Mammoth (Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009)

Seen: Friday, 16th October 2009 (cinema, WFF)
Runtime: 125′
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Marife Necesito, Jan David G. Nicdao, Sophie Nyweide, Martin Delos Santos, Natthamonkarn Srinikornchot, Michelle Williams
Production House: Memfis Film, Film i Väst, Pain Unlimited GmbH Filmproduktion, Sveriges Television (SVT), TV2 Danmark, Zentropa Entertainments, Zentropa International Berlin
Plot: (from imdb)

While on a trip to Thailand, a successful American businessman tries to radically change his life. Back in New York, his wife and daughter find their relationship with their live-in Filipino maid changing around them. At the same time, in the Philippines, the maid’s family struggles to deal with her absence.


Impressions In Short
Rather heavy and depressing. It’s one of those films which is missing something that would make it really great, though there’s loads of good things about it all the same. The kids in the film were exceptional :)

More About the Film
I walked out of the cinema with mixed feelings. It felt like there was something missing, something that would give the film that extra I don’t what. I’m still not sure what it was that it lacked…
But I was totally wowed by the kids in the film. They were all fantastic performances and I’m judging the same way I would judge adult actors here. The characters were supposed to be in the 7-11 years old range and I presume the child actors were around that too. And yet these were truly mature performances.
In fact the thing I probably liked about the film the most is that it never patronized the child characters. I’ve never seen another film quite like it I think. It treated the child characters in the same way it treated adult characters. Their motivations were perfectly clear and understandable, their world and way of thinking explained. There was never for a moment the assumption that a character would think that because he or she was a kid. They would think that because their experiences and feelings led them that way.
Perhaps that’s why the performances were so good. Kids hardly ever get to play characters written that well. The girl that plays Jackie was awesome. The conversations she has with Gloria (her nanny) are great - like when they talk about astronomy (that’s something Jackie has a particular fondness for) or when Jackie becomes interested in the Philippines, Gloria’s homeland. My favourite one was when Jackie starts telling Gloria about the Big Bang (and btw, Jackie may be around 8 years old, but she knows way more about astronomy than I do and way more than the general population does!). Gloria tells Jackie that she doesn’t believe in the Big Bang because she believes the world is God’s creation. And Jackie takes that as challenge to try and convince Gloria of the scientific facts (and that God may have been behind the Big Bang). It’s both sweet and real - a conversation like that could easily have happened *grin*
In some ways the most dramatic character amongst the kids is Salvador, Gloria’s older son. Gloria has had to leave both her sons in the Philippines when she made the decision to earn money abroad. Salvador is 11 and he’s a very strong and determined kid. He deals with his mother’s absence well, but it becomes more and more taxing on him with time. He has to try to keep his younger brother (who is dealing with it much worse) happy, which is exceedingly difficult as many of his younger brother’s doubts are his own. When he speaks to his mother on the phone he can never get a straight answer about when she will be back. He assumes the only answer that makes sense - until he himself is old and strong enough to make a living, his mother will have to stay abroad and earn money there. The boy who plays Salvador was great. It’s quite an intense and dramatic performance.
Then there is Manuel, Gloria’s younger son. He has less of a part in the film, but again a flawless performance.
The lady playing Gloria was great too :) She reminded me a lot of people I’ve come across in real life. It was a very real sort of performance and there was a beautiful warmth about her as well.
Michelle Williams was great as Jackie’s mother.
The one performance I didn’t like that much was Gael unfortunately. Not that he was bad. It’s probably just that I don’t like him in those kinds of roles. It was an “adult who is still a kid on the inside” kind of part.
I almost forgot to mention the Thai lady who played Cookie - she was great as well *grin*
It was definitely a very well acted film (I’m yet to see a Lukas Moodysson film where that wasn’t the case). But for me that wasn’t quite enough… It’s a little annoying that I don’t understand my own reasons for feeling like the film lacked something. The best explanation I’ve been able to come up with (and I’m not entirely sure it’s a true one ;-P) is that the film sometimes seemed to be more about the problems it was talking about than about the actual plot and characters. Still, it did paint a picture that is very much worth thinking about. At it’s core Mammoth is a story about loneliness. It’s about families that have a huge amount of love in them, but because of their lifestyle choices they’re very lonely and isolated. The freaky thing is that the lifestyle choices are ones that most of us choose.
It was actually fascinating to observe the whole marital cheating thing on screen. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it portrayed like that. It’s a marriage that has a huge amount of love and which is actually working. The cheating just happens because of circumstances and loneliness. Usually when you have a theme like that shown on screen then the cheating happens because there’s something wrong with the marriage, but in this case there isn’t and yet the situation is so very real.
It doesn’t sound like I’m reviewing a film I had mixed feelings about, does it? ;) And yet, even though there’s so much I can compliment, the film as a whole just didn’t quite work for me *sigh*

Ugh… this is a tough one. I would definitely recommend it for the performances of the kids. If anyone knows of another film which has kids of this sort of age performing on this kind of level then please let me know - I don’t think I do!
It’s also a good film for anyone who likes to have something to think about after they leave the cinema. This does leave you with plenty to chew on.
However, it also is pretty heavy and depressing. Stay away if that’s not your thing.
Stay away also if you’re not into art house films. This isn’t very radical, but if you’re not into art house you’re very unlikely to like it I think.

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