Brief synopsis: Maria returns to her village after her mother’s death to settle her affairs and collect her inheritance. Unfortunately, to collect her inheritance, she must fulfil several criteria stipulated by her late mother. The criteria are not only very specific, but they are also time-sensitive and difficult for Maria.
Is it any good?: Amusing characters and funny in parts, but ultimately an unsatisfactory experience. Okay, not great.
Spoiler territory: Maria (Estefania de la Santos) returns to the small seaside village of Santa Maria, where she grew up, when her mother, Paca (Caty Callado), dies. Maria meets Petra (Terele Pávez) in the courtyard. Petra is a neighbour of her mother’s. Maria tells her she is nervous about seeing her mother, Petra tells her she is making lentil soup.
In her old home, in the bedroom where her mother’s body is laying, Isabel (Maria Alfonsa Rosso), another neighbour, is sitting by the bed. Maria goes into the room. Isabel tells her that her mother spoke about her. She also tells her that her mother’s shroud, that she wishes to be buried in, is in the wardrobe.
Isabel goes to get the box with the shroud. She brings back the box and, to Maria’s shock, the shroud is a flamenco dress. Isabel tells her there was no other box. Maria is shocked, as her mother always tried to prevent her from having fun when she was alive. She gets distressed and wants to leave.
Isabel tells her she thinks it is a sign and that her mother wants her to be happy. Maria decides to make the wake a happy affair. She decorates the house and has Isabel put makeup on her mother. Isabel tells the whole village about the wake.
Maria talks to her mother’s portrait. She sees a vision of her dressed in the flamenco dress as she looks in a mirror. She tells Isabel that she saw her mother, Isabel tells her to stop talking nonsense.
At the wake, Segundo (Secun de la Rosa) sings. He is disabled, a pronounced limp on his right side. He also loves Maria even though she is his cousin. In the house, Maria insists on everybody toasting her mother, trying to foster a celebratory atmosphere.
Segundo goes up to see his aunt, having not seen her in the last years of her life. He tells Maria that she will inherit everything. Isabel tells Maria that her mother had been seeing a young priest from the village. She believes that the priest was stealing her money. Segundo tells Isabel to go and get some air.
After a few mishaps, they take the body to be buried. They all sing at the cemetery. Later, Segundo, who has returned to the house with Maria to help her clean up, is telling her about his plans with Rossi (Mariola Fuentes) to form a band to sing at wakes and funerals.
Maria goes to find out what her inheritance is. It is substantial. There is a stipulation. Maria tells Segundo that she must be married and pregnant within a month otherwise her entire inheritance will go to the church. Segundo, still very much infatuated with Maria, immediately offers himself as a potential suitor.
Maria laughs at him, thinking he is jesting. Segundo is crushed. He decides to help her anyway, telling her he will help her find a suitor. They will talk to the village prostitute, Pili (Paz Vega); she knows all of the men in the village. Pili and Maria are enemies since their school days.
They go to see Pili. She agrees to help them for a price. She sends Maria to go and get some new clothes. Maria returns to the house. Isabel has one of her mother’s outfits on. Maria gets her to give her some money for the outfit plus the ones she has in a bag. Isabel gives her the money. The priest comes to see Maria.
Segundo takes exception to the priest, believing he is just after the inheritance. Rossi comes into the courtyard to get Segundo. She sees the priest and takes it as a sign, saying he will be good for their business venture. Isabel comes out into the courtyard to tell the priest that he is not getting anything.
Maria hears the commotion and comes out. She knows the priest. He is Juan (Alfonso Sanchez) and used to be her boyfriend before he became a priest. Juan and Maria go for a walk. Segundo and Rossi crash a pre-wake gathering. Rossi tells Segundo that it is best to get to the relatives before their dear ones pass.
Juan and Maria continue their conversation. It is cryptic and full of regrets. Rossi and Segundo are confronted by Carla (Marta Torné) the daughter of the dying man. Rossi quickly explains that they provide post-mortem entertainment. Carla is confused. She threatens to call the police. Juan turns up and goes along with their ruse, saving them.
Maria sits alone at night on the beach. She sees her mother again. Her mother never says anything. Maria makes peace with her, telling her she will decide how she remembers her. The next day, the village is buzzing about the size of Maria’s supped inheritance. Every man in the village wants to marry her.
Pili hears about the inheritance and wants her brother, who is slightly mentally challenged, to marry Maria. She calls Segundo to tell him she is planning a big party for Maria, so as she can meet her brother. She also tells him that everybody is talking about the inheritance in the village.
Segundo calls Maria. She is panicked and feels that she must leave. Segundo begs her not to, telling her he is in love with her. Maria packs up to leave. Segundo comes up with a plan to raise some money. Maria talks to Petra. Petra tells her she cannot start over until she has finished.
Segundo and Rossi persuade Carla to have a party for her dying father. They have a big party for Carla’s father and the entire village turn out. Segundo sings a song proclaiming his love for Maria just as she arrives at the party. Pili brother steps on Maria’s dress, causing it to come off leaving her naked. Juan dances with her as Segundo sings.
A little time later and Maria is pregnant. She is with both Segundo and Juan. They are painting the coming child’s bedroom. The end.
¡Ay, Mi Madre! is a strange little film. At only 84 minutes long, it is amusing but frustratingly incomplete. Written and directed by Frank Ariza, it has good performances from the actors across the board and an interesting and challenging premise. It just does not deliver as well as it should, especially considering how good the talent is on show and the sprinkling of real comedic gems in the script.
The script seems to mix up the subplot and the plot, with Maria’s relationship with her deceased mother and confidence in herself and her life decisions lost in the mix of her confusion over her feelings for Juan.
¡Ay, Mi Madre! suffers from being too short to properly explore all of the stories it tries to tell. Though, as I said, the acting is top draw, it is the individual scenes that pop in the film instead of an overall, coherent story.
¡Ay, Mi Madre! is not an unwatchable film and is moderately enjoyable on the performances alone. Unfortunately, the whole is not quite made-up by the sum of its parts. ¡Ay, Mi Madre! is a bit of a meandering letdown.