From Spain comes “Madre,” writer-director Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s expanded version of his short film about a mother who learns that her 6-year-old son is lost on a beach he cannot name, unable to find his dad.
Set 10 years later, this feature-length continuation of the story isn’t a detective procedural or rescue thriller. It takes the surprising and satisfying form of a psychological drama following the mother’s journey through loss.
Like Jonathan Glazer’s “Birth” or Christina Choe’s “Nancy,” Sorogoyen’s movie, opening Friday on Video on Demand, explores the feeling of being drawn to someone who physically resembles a lost loved one. It’s also a coming-of-age tale that, like films by Andre Techine and Francois Ozon, smoothly blends the dark and the buoyant.
The film begins with Sorogoyen’s tense 17-minute Oscar-nominated short, which ends with the above-described mother, Elena (Marta Nieto), frantically rushing out of her apartment to search for her child.
In the new film, Elena has relocated from Spain to France, and the tension has moved below the surface.
A decade has passed, and Elena now regularly walks on the very beach where her boy vanished. Living nearby, she manages a restaurant and has a serous boyfriend, Joseba (Alex Brendemuhl) — signs she has moved forward.
But when Elena eyes Jean (Jules Porier), a Parisian teen who resembles her still-missing son, on the sand, she is spellbound. She trails Jean to see where he lives, and the next day, Jean, aware that she stalked him and deeming it cool, visits her restaurant. The two hit it off and begin spending time together.
Questions arise as their bond intensifies: Is Jean pursuing Elena as a romantic partner? Does Elena truly believe that Jean, who is French, not Spanish, is her son? Do the two feel that something uncanny or spiritual exists between them? Is there anything unsavory about Elena’s interest in Jean?
Sorogoyen and cowriter Isabel Pena keep the answers ambiguous. Even the characters themselves don’t understand their feelings. Basically, they make each other happy.
Their close relationship and some of their behavior begin to trouble Jean’s parents (Anne Consigny, Frederic Pierrot) as well as Joseba. Why is 39-year-old Elena frolicking on the beach and getting drunk with a 16-year-old?
An Elena-Jean-Joseba triangle forms, forcing Elena to make a difficult decision.
Toward the end, as Sorogoyen provides a few concrete details, the story veers into soggy melodrama. What transpires doesn’t jibe with the convincing, organically flowing material that precedes it.
But largely, the movie delivers, narratively and emotionally. It contains believable, humane character dynamics. The complicated and tangled emotions Sorogoyen depicts, in his Euro-sophisticated, non-moralistic way, are loaded with intrigue.
Nieto’s beautifully nuanced performance illustrates, with quiet power, how loss and lack of resolution or closure have prevented Elena from feeling anything deeply. Her scenes with the impressive Porier play out with an ambiguity that these actors make stimulating rather than frustrating. In a powerful restaurant-table scene, in which Elena reacts poorly to personal news shared by Ramon (Raul Prieto), the father of her missing son, the pent-up pain she unleashes hits hard.
Cinematographer Alex de Pablo’s claustrophobic and distorted camerawork poetically and efficiently brings out Elena’s boxed-in and out-of-sync feelings.
Starring: Marta Nieto, Jules Porier, Alex Brendemuhl, Anne Consigny
Written by: Isabel Pena, Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Directed by: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Unfocused but rousing, the documentary “Us Kids” (opening Friday on Alamo Drafthouse Video on Demand and screening for free through Election Day, looks at the March for Our Lives movement and at the teen activists behind its memorably successful protest events, which stemmed from horror.
Director Kim A. Snyder, whose “Newtown” centered on the Sandy Hook school tragedy, now looks at the mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. Snyder follows the handful of students who, after the incident, launched March for Our Lives to combat gun violence. The largest youth protest in U.S. history resulted, with global reverberations, along with a national tour calling for gun-control legislation.
The featured activists include stars of the movement, like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and Cameron Kasky. Sam Fuentes, who was shot during the Parkland incident, discusses her struggle to heal.
More briefly, Bria Smith, an African-American student, adds the experiences of her Milwaukee community to the discussion.
Snyder covers everything from social media and the news media to PTSD and survivor guilt to Batman and “Breaking Bad”— topics too numerous and loosely presented to coalesce into an efficiently structured whole.
But the film still contains choice material — a sequence in which Hogg and Kasky discourse with willing-to-listen gun-owning opponents on the street, for example — and Snyder vividly captures the energy, savvy and dynamism of her young subjects. During an election season that, for some, has been one long anxiety attack, to witness these kids at work is uplifting and inspiring.
With: Emma Gonzalez, Sam Fuentes, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky
Directed by: Kim A. Snyder
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes