It takes a village to boost a baby, goes the outdated saying, and no less than within the figurative sense, Spanish director Pilar Palomero’s super sophomore function “La Maternal” exhibits that to be true. Earlier than that may occur, nevertheless, pregnant 14-year-old Carla must get out of the village and into town — particularly, to a Barcelona shelter for teenage moms the place the troubled adolescent finds the group and empathy her life has been lacking all alongside. Feminine solidarity drives Palomero’s follow-up to the celebrated, equally sisterhood-themed “Schoolgirls,” however with none glib girl-power sloganeering: A tricky, unsweetened work of social realism constructed round an astonishing display screen debut by Carla Quílez, “La Maternal” sentimentalizes not one element of juvenile motherhood, actually incomes its flashes of hope and style.
Although it racked up pageant mileage on the Berlinale and past, “Schoolgirls” by no means made fairly the impression internationally that it did in Spain — the place it topped final yr’s Goya winners over bigger-name competitors. Premiering nearer to residence in the primary competitors at San Sebastian, the extra muscular, formidable “La Maternal” deserves to be a much bigger deal nonetheless, analogous to such latest works as Sarah Gavron’s “Rocks” and Celine Sciamma’s “Girlhood”: There’s little right here that wouldn’t translate to international arthouse audiences, although Palomero’s script retains a youthful, flavorful Spanish idiom that smacks of productive workshopping with a predominantly non-professional forged.
Although that is her first function credit score, Quílez isn’t among the many movie’s amateurs, and brings whirling physicality and livewire emotional depth to a demanding lead position. As Carla, she’s typically required to be directly piercingly susceptible and violently prickly, streetsmart however not particularly precocious, because the movie dares to make its younger, steadily victimized protagonist not particularly likable. We encounter her at her most brattish, in consort along with her trustworthy finest good friend Efrain (Jordan Ángel Dumes), as they break right into a wealthier household’s home of their rural group and proceed to trash the place with barely surprising vigor.
In her own residence she’s scarcely extra civil. Relations along with her single mom Penelope (Ángela Cervantes, terrific), who runs a divey roadside cafe, pinball between uncontained aggression and occasional, extra sisterly moments of bonding: Because the pair lie collectively on Penelope’s mattress taking selfies and selecting filters, we’re reminded that Andrea in all probability turned a mom when she wasn’t that a lot older than Carla herself. When Carla is apprehended for vandalism by social employees, she’s startled to find she’s 5 months pregnant — regardless of scant sexual expertise with Efrain. (Our introduction to the 2, in actual fact, finds them watching on-line porn with giggly naïveté.)
When she’s moved to a shelter within the metropolis, the place underage moms and pregnant ladies are given tough-love assist by seasoned employees, actuality hits exhausting — not simply her personal, however that of the opposite residents, most of whom come from abusive backgrounds, and regard the shelter as extra of a sanctuary than a jail. Vividly performed by real-life younger moms bringing their very own experiences to the desk, these friends all emerge not simply as sounding boards for the frightened, defiant Carla, however as vigorous, dimensional characters in their very own proper — a credit score to Palomero’s perceptive, responsive writing, in addition to keen-eyed casting by Irene Roqué.
Structurally and dramatically, in the meantime, “La Maternal” doesn’t proceed in response to conference, making a advantage of abrupt ellipses the place one may anticipate emphasis. Eschewing a climactic birthing scene, for instance, Palomero exhibits moderately extra curiosity within the day-to-day challenges of early child-rearing — formidable to anybody, however nearly insurmountable to a brand new guardian who’s nonetheless a baby herself. “He doesn’t let me stay my life,” Carla complains later of her sleepless, continually wailing new child, to solely a modicum of sympathy from her grownup minders and fellow moms: That’s the entire deal of parenthood, in spite of everything, and prepared or not, you’ll be able to’t sulk your approach out of it.
The movie’s compassion, no less than, is constant, even because it permits Carla no straightforward, hugging-and-learning redemption, and doesn’t clear an apparent path for what’s certain to be a difficult future. Julian Elizalde’s intimate, soft-shadowed camerawork holds her shut all through, scrutinizing her face for refined shifts and breaks in expression with out ever making her really feel like a lab topic. Only a transient half-smile in response to a uncommon second of mother-baby connection performs on this acutely delicate movie like a seismic occasion, however “La Maternal” is cautious to not idealize or romanticize the rewards of elevating a baby, additionally absorbing the tales of others for whom the burden is an excessive amount of to bear. In the direction of the top, a large shot of Carla pedaling her kid-size bike alongside an open street cuts two methods symbolically, nodding each to potentialities forward and a childhood left rudely in limbo.