"Mammoth": Movie Review (2009)

11/21/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review


Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson, 126 minutes, not rated.

By our guest blogger, Katherine Martinez

“Mammoth,” a Berlin Film Festival success, opened today at the IFC Center in Manhattan. To begin with, if you have not visited this theater, it should become a destination for the near future. Organic popcorn, comfortable and intimate screenings and they even serve David Lynch Signature coffee. Yes, David Lynch went ahead and made his own brand of coffee. We even received free chips and salsa before the meal because there was a 10-minute film featured before the show from Short Attention Span Cinema. Actually, “Mammoth” was probably the most mediocre part of the experience.

Similar to Lukas Moodysson’s “Show Me Love” (1998) and "Together" (2000), “Mammoth” opens up the characters through a focus on family background. Leo (Bernal) and Ellen Vidales (Williams) are the perfect mid-30s couple, madly successful and terribly in love. This we gather through long scenes capturing the two frolicking with their precocious 7-year-old daughter in their massive Soho apartment. On the other side of the world sits the two Filipino sons of the New York couple’s maid, Gloria. Salvador and Manuel live with their grandmother but yearn for their mother to come home from America.

When Leo leaves for Thailand on a business trip, the narration divides between three stories. The first focuses on Ellen and her life as a head surgeon of a hospital. Secondary is Gloria and her competing long-distance relationship with her sons versus the immediate relationship with the Vidales’ daughter. Additionally, Leo finds himself giving into the temptations Thailand has to offer to the foreigner with cash in hand. The movie quickly turns into a depressing story of relationships both developed and torn apart by the affects of consumption. “Mammoth” has been compared to “Babel” and it does seem that similar elements of the film are found in the interrelated relationships formed across an economic and global map, but with less political tensions present.

We watch as Ellen works extremely long hours in the E.R., and witnesses her daughter emotionally detach from her. Sophie finds a new mother in Gloria, who provides more consistent, hands-on nurturing. Leo takes up a beach bungalow because he is so horribly bored of staying in his 5-star hotel while waiting to sign documents for a multi-million dollar deal. He decides to make friends with other tourists who take advantage of the local treasures and ends up at a lounge where he meets a prostitute, Cookie. As his mighty American hero side emerges, he insists on giving Cookie a large chunk of money with the promise that she not work the rest of the night. This must have felt morally invigorating because Leo later calls his wife and leaves a message saying that when he gets back, he wants to start doing charity work (the beautiful irony continues when he does end up sleeping with Cookie).

This does, in fact, seem to be a message of the movie. Americans can solve guilt by paying the right person. Ellen finally has a night off from work, so she plans a special pizza-making dinner for her and her daughter, but Sophie was looking forward to attending the Filipino church with Gloria and sulks until she gets her way. The next day, Ellen brings home an expensive telescope in an attempt to win Sophie back through something that Gloria cannot provide. Leo furtively leaves Cookie while she sleeps but makes sure to provide around $35,000 in designer trinkets on the nightstand. Gloria continues the cycle in an American fashion by purchasing toys to send home to her children after yet another phone call from her son is filled with sobs. She picks up a basketball and notices at the checkout stand that it is stamped with "Made in Phillipines."

In the end, the families are brought back together but not without tragedy. Most specifically, Salvador naively enters a sex trafficking area in the middle of the night and ends up in the hospital. The film is slow-paced in the typical Moodyson style that centers on everyday interaction with characters with various moments of interpretable montages supported by Cat Power and Ladytron. The bleakest (or very darkly humorous) moment in this dismal film is probably the very last. The Vidales are all on the couch snuggling together and are happily watching their daughter sleep. There is a sense that the two adults understand the mistakes they have made and will move towards change but, alas, the closing lines are:

Leo: “Do you have to work tomorrow?”
Ellen: “Yes. You?”
Leo: “No. I think I’ll take a few days off. Take Sophie to school.”
Ellen: “Good…We will have to find another maid.”

The American show must go on!

Grade: B

View the trailer for "Mammoth" below. Thoughts on the movie?

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