My Mother’s Hands: San Sebastian Review

The Basque film takes a warm, sympathetic look at a mother-daughter relationship.

Director Mireia Gabilondo's Basque film stars Ainara Gurrutxaga and Esther Remiro as a mother and daughter struggling with changes.

San Sebastian—One of the Basque movies receiving its world premiere in San Sebastian tells a story that people all over the world will be able to understand.  My Mother’s Hands focuses on Nerea (Ainara Gurrutxaga), a 38-year-old woman dealing with pressures at work and at home when she is suddenly faced with a new crisis:  Her mother, Luisa (Esther Remiro), has been rushed to the hospital after being found walking distractedly through traffic.  Suddenly Nerea has to find a way to deal with her aging mother’s mental impairment while also trying to keep her daily life on track.  This universal drama is rendered with considerable pathos.  Strong acting and fluid filmmaking help to keep us engaged, though the film isn’t quite novel or incisive enough to travel very far beyond Spain’s borders.

Nerea is a newspaper writer with a somewhat unsympathetic editor, so pressures at the office are building.  Her boyfriend works at home so is able to take care of their daughter, though Nerea feels like something of a failure as a mother.  She also feels guilty for paying too little attention to her mother’s growing memory problems before this current crisis.  When she and her brother visit their mother in the hospital, Luisa does not recognize them, though she knows her sister Dolores (Loli Astoreka), who comes to visit from Germany.  Luisa seems increasingly obsessed with events from the distant past that her children never knew about.

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Luisa is haunted by memories of a youthful romance, and Nerea sees parallels in her own life and her own unresolved feelings about a former lover.  The film moves in and out of flashbacks gracefully, weaving together events from Nerea’s childhood as well as her mother’s youth.  Gurrutxaga’s performance is a major asset.  The actress is willing to appear abrasive and even unlikable, yet we always find her recognizably human.  Astoreka also brings a good deal of dimension to her role.  A few of the other characters, like Nerea’s brother and her lover, are not quite so well developed.  There are, however, nice character touches dealing with the other hospital patients, who become rather nosy and intrusive. 

The film is well shot, capturing the pressures of urban life as well as a more idyllic past that tantalizes the characters.  Despite a few languid stretches, this film brings considerable compassion to the complicated lives that many beleaguered adults with aging parents are now confronting.

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Venue:  San Sebastian Film Festival.

Cast:  Ainara Gurrutxaga, Esther Remiro, Loli Astoreka, Mark Schardan, Mike Tello, Naiara Arnedo.

Director;  Mireia Gabilondo.

Screenwriter: Josu Bilbao.

Based on the novel by: Karmele Jaio.

Producers:  Eduardo Barinaga, Karmelo Vivanco.

Director of photography: Gonzalo Berridi.

Production designer: Luisa Lopez.

Music:  Pascal Gaigne.

Costume designer: Ana Turrillas.

Editor:  Maialen Sarasua.

No rating, 94 minutes.