María (y los demás): A heartwarming tale of one woman’s resistance to change
Upcoming Catalonian director Nely Reguera treated Mancunian viewers to a screening of her debut feature film María (y los demás)—meaning María (and everybody else) in English—following it up with a Q&A session at this year’s ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival at HOME.
Resistance to change, whether for better or for worse, is something that we all experience at some point in our lives, and María (Bárbara Lennie), the eponymous protagonist of the film, is no different. Having been the pillar of her family and occupied herself with the wellbeing of those around her since her mother’s passing twenty years ago, María suddenly finds herself confronted by her own life’s affairs. Her father’s announcement that he is to marry his nurse Cachita makes her role as homemaker redundant, and María—in her mid-thirties—soon realises she is lagging behind her peers in the most seemingly important facets of life: her career and her love life. María (y los demás) is a delightfully heartwarming depiction of a woman’s struggle to endure the ever-present pressure to have one’s life in order, and offers plenty of laughs along the way.
Bárbara Lennie effortlessly portrays María’s juvenile temperament, which oscillates between moments of blinding bliss, and frustration tinged with resentment. Viewers, regardless of age or sex, will find themselves empathising with María as she confronts her reality, yet irked at times by her immaturity. María does not take criticism well, and this is especially apparent in the scenes set at the family home. With the lush greenery of Galicia as a backdrop, as if to highlight everyone else’s contentment, Reguera portrays the family enjoying afternoons of good food and witty conversation. Yet when the family tease María over her book that has been several years in the making, or her choice of simplistic cuisine for the father’s wedding menu, María is not impressed. Shots of Lennie petulantly pouting fill the screen, revealing to us the protagonist’s overly sensitive disposition, and work to further emphasise the disconnect she feels between herself and those around her.
María, accustomed to selflessly helping others, feels more at ease when directly contributing to their happiness and clings to any opportunity to gain recognition. This tendency of hers leads her into a rather one-sided relationship with her love interest, Dani, a single father and aspiring musician who does not seem as enthusiastic about María as a person as he does for her flair for fellatio. But make no mistake, María has dreams and aspirations of her own, which Reguera has Lennie play out in some hilarious yet sometimes heartbreaking solo scenes. It is precisely through this amalgamation of drama and comedy that the five-way screenwriting effort truly excels and helps us understand the confusion María experiences as she adjusts to a life of focussing purely on herself.
While there is nothing groundbreaking about the way in which the plot is presented to us, the film’s ‘hangout movie’ quality perfectly meets its objectives in being a snapshot of María’s life, and keeps the story in the realm of realism by not having her mature in a matter of days. Short snippets of María rather randomly practising playing the flute occasionally break up the diegesis, and whilst amusing to watch in their own right, show a woman desperately trying to take control of something in her life, whatever it may be, and succumbing to the modern day pressure to sustain a range of activities for mere kudos. María (y los demás) charmingly reminds us of the need to be flexible and open to change, whilst at the same time not forcing it to happen, as ultimately, it will not only benefit oneself, but also those around us.