Film Review: Mammoth

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Competition
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BERLIN -- "Mammoth" runs counter to expectations. In his sixth feature film and English-language debut, Lukas Moodysson for the first time has movie stars and international locations, which causes one to anticipate the Swedish director doing a Tom Tykwer -- looking to expand his filmmaking via a big, globe-hopping picture. Anything but. For despite its title, "Mammoth" is a small-scale story about families and how children fit into an often puzzling adult world. The story simply takes place in three distinct time zones.

Those expectations may hurt the film's ability to move beyond specialty markets, however. The film's vagueness of purpose and elevation of small ironies and self-evident truths to the level of deep-dish revelations may further damage the film with sophisticated viewers. The boxoffice outlook is iffy at best.

If one thinks of "Babel" minus the melodrama and histrionics, you get a clearer picture of what Moodysson has done here. Families get split up around the world, with adults often minding children that aren't theirs, yet the interconnectedness remains.

The film's focal point is an upscale Manhattan couple, Leo and Ellen, played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams. Leo is a computer geek whose "genius" for video games has brought him into the world of high finance and ambitious startups. Ellen is an emergency room doctor, who spends her days patching and repairing torn bodies the mean streets keep tossing at her.

Their 8-year-old daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) spends most of her time with her Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito). When Leo departs for Thailand to raise significant capital, Ellen all the more acutely feels a sense that she is a bit player in her own life. Her husband is away and her daughter out with the nanny while she frantically struggles to save the life of a boy whose mother thrust a knife into his stomach.

Gloria's own two young boys in the Philippines miss their mom badly. The eldest phones her, begging her to come home. And Leo, who is not really a dealmaker, finds himself lost in Thailand, eventually winding up with a bar girl (Run Srinikornchot), who is pleasing foreign men to support her own baby.

This is the globalization of the nuclear family, where so many small ironies abound. Gloria's youngest son loves basketball so she goes to a store in New York and buys him a ball, made in the Philippines, to send to him back in the Philippines.

The film's scenes are sketchy, often inconclusive and filled with characters' frustrations. While writer-director Moodysson's points are clear -- sometimes to the point of mundane obviousness -- audiences may experience their own frustrations with all this soft drama.

Of course, children miss parents half a world away and, of course, a mother may grow jealous of her child's intimacy with the hired help. Such sentiments feel more at home in a newspaper column or personal blog though than in a movie. The shallowness of these ideas cannot stand the wide-screen scrutiny.

Production work in New York, the Philippines and Thailand is excellent, but somehow the intimacy Moodysson clearly wants to achieve goes missing.

Production: Memfis Film in co-poduction with Zentropa Entertainments Berlin, Zentropa Entertainments5, Film I Vast, Sverigers Television, TV2 Denmark
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Sophie Nyweide, Tom McCarthy, Marife Necesito, Run Srinikornchot
Director-screenwriter: Lukas Moodysson
Producer: Lars Jonsson
Executive producers: Lene Borglum, Peter Garde, Vibeke Windelov
Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind
Production designer: Josefin Asberg
Music: Jesper Kurlandsky, Erik Holmquist, Linus Gierta
Costume designer: Denise Ostholm
Editor: Michael Leszczylowski
Sales: TrustNordisk

No rating, 126 minutes
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