Sundance 2023 Review: MAMACRUZ, Spanish Character Study Impresses, Moves, Celebrates

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Sundance 2023 Review: MAMACRUZ, Spanish Character Study Impresses, Moves, Celebrates

In 1975, Francisco Franco, the right-wing dictator who ruled Spain for almost four decades, died after a lengthy battle with his own mortality, leaving his designated successor, Juan Carlos I, to presumably continue his fascist policies, centered on three overriding principles or values: family, church, and state.

Individual rights and liberal democracy were nowhere in Franco’s conception of Spain before or immediately after his death. Instead, the new leader threw his moral weight and political capital behind democratic reforms, returning Spain to a constitutional monarchy, resulting in a gradual liberalization of culture and the arts and the retreat of state-sponsored religion, specifically Roman Catholicism, from public life.

For Cruz (Kiti Mánver), a woman in the twilight years of her life in writer-director Patricia Ortega’s poignant sex-positive drama, Mamacruz, the death of Franco didn’t mean the end of Francoism or the repressive, repressive, and regressive attitudes embodied in the reactionary strain of Roman Catholicism she believes and lives by. That same religious conservatism dictates practically every aspect of her life, from daily church service to attitudes about sex, specifically non-procreative sex. Anything else, including random thoughts of a sexual nature, is considered a potentially damning sin for which Cruz must confess at her weekly visits with the parish priest.

Everything changes for Cruz, however, when a chance encounter with her granddaughter’s tablet inadvertently sends her to a porn site. A few seconds of porn not only shocks Cruz but also awakens long-suppressed sensual desires, including a desire to reconnect intimately with her husband, Eduardo (Pepe Quero). He’s seemingly content, though, to continue their lives unchanged as companions or roommates, sharing meals, watching the same television programs from the opposite ends of an oversized couch, and sleeping in the same bed.

While Cruz attempts to continue with the daily routines that have shaped and defined her life, those thoughts and feelings refuse to go away. In what religious conservatives will certainly deem blasphemous, Cruz’s sexual imagination gets the better of her when she dresses a full-sized Christ figure (naked, of course) in a new, freshly sown gown in the moments before a church service.

Only the sudden, jarring appearance of an altar boy startles Cruz from taking her reverie any further. Still, her reawakened desires persist.

Unable to renew her husband’s interest in her and ill-equipped to find a healthy outlet for herself, Cruz joins a group of middle-aged sex-positive women of various shapes, sizes, and ages. As Cruz learns the literal ins and outs of self-pleasure, she predictably becomes estranged from her church, her husband, and the old friends and acquaintances that once sustained her and gave meaning, however partial, to her life.

Ortega embraces the core idea that self-identity, without acknowledging sexual desire, isn’t particularly healthy, and a society that refuses to see older women as sexual beings must, by necessity, change. It’s a message that Ortega handles with sensitivity, care, and warmth, never mocking or ridiculing Cruz or any of the other women, but instead unironically celebrating them for finding their true, authentic selves at whatever age.  

Ortega does all this with a finely calibrated attention to detail, a wry, droll sense of humor, and an unhurried, casual approach to telling Cruz’s story. She’s helped immeasurably by Kiti Mánver and Mánver’s willingness to bare herself, emotionally and physically, during some of Mamacruz’s more challenging, demanding moments.

Cruz’s relationship with her adult daughter, Laura (María José Mariscal), a dancer finally getting her big break in Vienna, also adds a note of tenderness. Cruz and Laura might be, if not from two different worlds, then two different centuries, but their relationship reflects the unbreakable bonds and emotional intimacy only a mother and daughter can genuinely share.

Mamacruz premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.


  • Patricia Ortega
  • Patricia Ortega
  • José Ortuño
  • Kiti Mánver
  • María José Mariscal
  • Paula Díaz
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Kiti MánverMamacruzMaría José MariscalPatricia OrtegaPaula DíazPepe QueroJosé OrtuñoComedyDrama

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