In his 2005 film Nine Lives, Rodrigo Garcia did something cinematically unexpected. Bringing to the women’s picture a rigorous aesthetic design, Nine Lives, made up of nine disparate segments about different female characters shot in elaborate single takes, successfully translated the structure of a short story anthology to the screen, and without denying film’s unique properties. The narratives themselves, surveying women from different classes and pasts and at different life thresholds, may not have been equally gripping, but together the film had a cumulative power, while certain segments (especially Robin Wright Penn’s supermarket encounter with an ex-flame) could be considered short-film classics. In his new film, Mother and Child, Garcia continues his mission to dramatize intersecting lives of women, yet here his three main characters are figures in a single, elegantly unfolding narrative. While not without its stilted moments and easy sentiments, Mother and Child is lucid, engaging, and novelistic in the best sense—even if it could have used that little extra aesthetic push that made Nine Lives so remarkable.
At this point, Garcia’s adoration of women can’t be mistaken, but it could be taken for granted. Even the title of this film begs to give mother-daughter relations iconic, mythic status. And though it can easily be argued that his idolization, even idealization, of femininity, motherhood, and female empowerment might cross the line into fetish, with his unerring focus on issues of birth and adoption, the result is genuinely warm, from the heart, and emotionally honest even as it twists itself into narrative pretzels. It also provides meaty roles for three actresses: Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, and Kerry Washington. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Mother and Child.