‘The Hours With You’: Palm Springs Review

Courtesy of Palm Springs International Film Festival
Sometimes achieving reconciliation requires swallowing your pride 

Cassandra Ciangherotti stars alongside vets Maria Rojo and Isela Vega in this restrained family melodrama

Mexican filmmaker Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s feature concerning three generations of women from a wealthy rural clan seeking to resolve their complicated history during a family crisis represents an accomplished debut that should manage to charm a wide variety of audiences. Domestic theatrical release looks favorable, while distribution stateside could be handled via a variety of different formats.

Childhood memories can be pleasant, but they can also be misleading, a discovery that twenty-something Ema (Cassandra Ciangherotti) makes when she’s forced to spend several uninterrupted days under the same roof with her semi-estranged mother, Julieta (Maria Rojo), a famous pop singer. The way Ema remembers growing up, her mother was mostly away traveling or performing at concerts, while she herself was raised mostly by her grandmother Maria (Isela Vega) after her parents’ divorce.

Elderly now, Maria suddenly experiences a major health crisis, so Ema returns from Mexico City to her grandma’s well-appointed home, only to find Julieta already organizing Maria’s household help and health-care requirements. Temporarily cohabitating while the bedridden family matriarch struggles to survive isn’t the ideal setting for a reconciliation, so Ema and Julieta keep their distance, treating each other warily. Going through Maria’s paperwork searching for her will, Ema discovers photos and mementos from her mother’s own childhood, as she begins to gain a deeper sense of Julieta’s personal accomplishments and sacrifices, which have remained hidden from her over the past few decades.

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These familial revelations resonate all the more now for Ema, since she’s just found out that she’s pregnant by her very Catholic boyfriend Manuel (Pablo Cruz) and is unsure how he’ll react, or if she should consider her “options,” so she hasn’t mentioned her condition to anyone. Her dilemma is thrown into deeper perspective when her uncle Pablo (Julio Bracho) arrives from the U.S. with his wife and two kids, prompting Maria to rally somewhat, but it’s not clear how much longer she can hold out. Surrounded by her family, including two generations of mothers, Ema begins to reevaluate her prospects for motherhood and face her fears about parenting.

Transpiring in an almost exclusively feminine domain, Mastretta’s lovingly crafted portrait of familial rivalry and affection admirably succeeds on the strength of its sparkling cast. Even if her scripting occasionally approaches telenovela territory, Mastretta maintains a gently sentimental tone that’s appealing without being cloying. And while the outcome is clear well ahead of the final credits, some amusing detours along the way help nudge the characters toward an enduring faith in the continuity of family and tradition.

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Ciangherotti more than holds her own onscreen with film and TV vet Rojo, as well as Vega, who has five decades worth of acting credits. Appearing in almost every scene, Ciangherotti adeptly modulates her performance between borderline scorn for Ema’s misunderstood mom and effusive affection for her grandmother. Repeatedly rebuffed, Rojo’s Julieta wages an expertly calculated charm offensive to win over not only her daughter and mother, but the entire household staff as well. Although bedridden for much of the film, Vega stands out even while reclining in her role as the beleaguered matriarch.

Aside from some opening exteriors shot on her grandmother’s own property, Mastretta has ably composed the film almost entirely from interior sequences depicting Maria’s spacious home. A preference for scenes shot with unnaturally flattering lighting occasionally proves distracting, as does the precision of Ana Solares’ rustic-chic production design, but the technical package overall remains inviting without resorting to excess.

Production companies: La Banda Films, Cineopolis

Cast: Cassandra Ciangherotti, Maria Rojo, Isela Vega, Arcelia Ramirez, Evangelina Martinez, Pablo Cruz, Julio Bracho

Director-writer: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta

Producer: Roberto Sneider

Director of photography: Berenice Eveno

Production designer: Ana Solares

Costume designer: Brenda Gomez

Editor: Miguel Schverdfinger            

Music: Victor Hernandez Stumpfhauser

No rating, 92 minutes

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