A potent, observational exploration of female fortitude and solidarity, the Mexican documentary film La Mami, from Spanish-born director Laura Herrero Garvín (The Swirl) opens on Thursday, April 7 at Maysles Cinema in New York City, followed by other U.S. cities.
Winner of the Cinema Tropical Award for Best Film, and a favorite at numerous international film festivals including IDFA, MoMA Doc Fortnight, SXSW, Zurich, San Sebastian, DocsLisboa, and Morelia, La Mami takes us inside the ladies’ bathroom-turned-cloakroom of a legendary Mexico City nightclub, the Cabaret Barba Azul. Inside the fluorescently-lit upstairs refuge we meet Doña Olga, known as “La Mami” to the dancers and hostesses of the discotheque below, who keeps watch over the dressing room while remaining a tough-loving confidante and vigilant protector of the girls themselves.
La Mami has worked in the cabaret world for more than 45 years: as a party girl, a waitress, and a seller of songs. Now that her body has aged, she takes care of the mythical Barba Azul Cabaret from her nightly post in the cloakroom. When newcomer Priscilla arrives, Herrero Garvín’s camera quietly observes as the other girls introduce her to the secrets of the night and La Mami takes her under her wing, offering much needed advice and comfort to combat the crude machismo that surrounds them. In their world, La Mami warns, “men are only good for two things: for nothing, and for money.”
Textural, empathetic, and shot completely from the female perspective, Herrero Garvín upends the tropes of the popular cabaretera subgenre of Mexican cinema of yesteryear to craft an exquisite and non-glamourous look into the real stories of women doing what they have to in order to provide for their families, pay for crippling medical expenses, and carve a path for themselves and their loved ones despite unforgiving circumstances.
La Mami is both a heartfelt and intimate portrait of Doña Olga and the girls from Cabaret Barba Azul and a perceptive study of labor and collective fatigue which tacitly points to the myriad sacrifices that mothers and caregivers choose to make on the daily. Above all, La Mami reminds us that at the core of group survival are emotional ties and community.
Watch the trailer for La Mami
Born in Toledo, Spain in 1985, Laura Herrero Garvín has a Master in Creative Documentary from the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. She is the co-founder of Sandia Digital, a company through which she has made about twenty short documentaries. Her professional career is closely linked to Mexico, and she now lives in Barcelona and works between Spain and Mexico. Her debut feature film El remolino (The Swirl), premiered internationally in Locarno, and was selected in more than 70 festivals and awarded in several of them, such as Documenta Madrid. Her most recent film, the feature-length documentary La Mami had its world premiere at IDFA Main Competition, with excellent reception from critics and audience. It has participated in more than 40 international festivals around the world so far.