GFF2023 Review: Lullaby

Year: 2023

Runtime: 104 minutes

Director: Alauda Ruiz de Azua

Writer: Alauda Ruiz de Azua

Stars: Laia Costa, Susi Sanchez, Ramon Baera, Mikel Bustamante

By Calum Cooper

Alauda Ruiz de Azua’s feature debut “Lullaby” (2022) is a spellbinding way to begin her feature film career. A generational drama about the complexities of parent child dynamics, particularly the much overlooked mother daughter relationship, its resounding empathy is matched only by its astonishing craft. The legendary Pedro Almodovar called this film “the best debut in Spanish cinema for some time”. He wasn’t joking.

Amaia (Laia Costa) has recently given birth to her daughter Jone. She is struggling with the newfound responsibility and is frustrated at her partner Javier (Mikel Bustamante), whose work calls him away right when Amaia needs him most. She decides to move back to her parents’ house in the Basque Coast, hoping for assistance and guidance. While there, Amaia finds herself reflecting on the relationship between her and her own mother Begona (Susi Sanchez).

The themes of the premise are somewhat similar to another Spanish film playing at the Glasgow Film Festival – Pilar Palomero’s “La Maternal” (2023). Yet “Lullaby” has a uniqueness and even an originality to itself that allows it to stand on its own. Where “La Maternal” was more about the decline of childhood in the face of impending adulthood, “Lullaby” details how we start to see our parents in clearer lights when we ourselves become parents. Its characters are imbued with this thematic richness, creating a distinctive authenticity to their woes and conflicts.

“The legendary Pedro Almodovar called this film “the best debut in Spanish cinema for some time”. He wasn’t joking.”

This is Costa’s first feature film since dazzling audiences with her remarkable performance in Harry Wootliff’s “Only You” (2018). It’s great to see her on the silver screen again, and her acting here is as magnificent as ever. Playing someone constantly stressed is never an easy task, yet Wootliff embraces the strenuous aspects of her character and uses them to generate considerable nuance and resounding understanding for the role. Opposite her is the equally impressive Sanchez, whose no nonsense persona that makes her character of Begona serves as both an antagonistic force and a shoulder of comfort for Costa’s Amaia. Her pondering on the past makes for a compelling foil to Amaia’s anxiety about the present and future. Whenever they are on screen together it’s like magic come to reality. Ramon Baera also captivates as Amaia’s father Koldo, of whom Begona astutely describes as “a bad husband but a good father”, a description that gives you an idea of how intricate the characters are.

Elevating the acting are their roles and the surrounding filmmaking. This is a film in which contemplation, longing and nervousness linger on many of the characters’ minds. Azua’s direction and her team’s combined efforts visually portray this with warm delicacy. The sun drenched colour palette provides a gripping juxtaposition to the weight of the discussions and revelations made as Amaia and Begona find common ground and open old wounds between each other. The use of distant long shots highlights the distance between mother and daughter, shots which consistently get closer throughout the film – a subtle but excellent choice that highlights the key themes and relationship splendidly.

One could even read this film as a particular commentary on the roles of women specifically in the family unit. Begona often bemoans how she feels taken for granted. Now that Amaia is a mother herself, angry at her workaholic partner’s absence, Begona’s attitude, which Amaia initially saw as stuck up and questionable, now suddenly seems much more understandable. Yet there’s still ways to go before their icy power dynamics defrost and even out. The sharpness of dialogue between these two, as well as the sensitive insights match the themes and visuals wonderfully, highlighting how easily parenthood can become cyclical as children learn their lessons from their parents and potentially make the same mistakes as their predecessors. Azua makes no judgements but rather lets the characters coexist and work through their conflicts. The end result is something as riveting as it is humanist in identity.

Azua has really made something triumphant in “Lullaby”. As thematically interesting as it is emotionally layered, its premise is fascinating and its characters are as engagingly nuanced as they are brilliantly written. A bittersweet meditation on living the life we’ve got with the people we have, it’s a sun drenched drama that explores human contradictions but celebrates connection from beginning to end. No wonder Almodovar has been championing this film.


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