“Capitalism is making us all sick.”
Conversaciones Con Mama (Conversations with Mother), an Argentinean film from writer/director Santiago Carlos Oves is the story of a relationship between a middle-aged son and his elderly mother set against Argentina’s financial crisis of 2001.
Jamie (Eduardo Blanco) is an executive who suddenly finds himself without a job during the crisis. He has a middle-class lifestyle–a nice home, a wife and two children, and an elderly mother he supports. When the money crunch hits, Jamie’s wife, Dorita (Silvana Bosco) decides that the best course to take is to sell the apartment currently occupied by Jamie’s elderly mother (China Zorrilla), and then to help expenses, Jamie’s mother is supposed to move in to the now-disused maid’s room. Dorita and her mother pressure Jamie to approach his mother with the news.
When Jaime visits his mother, he finds her surprisingly stubborn on the issue of moving out. It’s not difficult to feel sympathy for Jaime. Played by actor Eduardo Blanco, he has one of those extremely flexible faces–a bit like Roberto Benigni, and it’s this very look that helps create empathy for Jamie–a man trapped on all sides by demanding women. Jamie’s mother is at first very elusive about any sort of move, and it’s difficult to tell just how much is dottiness and how much is avoidance. While she refuses to discuss the apartment, she focuses on the infrequency of Jamie’s visits, and the food she cooks for his visits that is wasted. It becomes clear that there’s no love between Jaime’s mother, Dorita and his mother-in-law. But the idea also appears that while Jaime’s life has gone on without his mother, her life has also developed. During their frequent conversations, she begins using words and phrases that catch Jamie’s attention, and then he discovers that she has a boyfriend.
When Jaime finally pins down his mother long enough to explain his financial dilemma, she refuses to move out of her apartment, citing the fact that her boyfriend, ‘retired anarchist’ Gregorio (Ulises Dumont), an elderly man who spends all day training and educating fellow seniors and protesting, is moving in with her. At first stunned by the news that his mother has a boyfriend, Jaime agrees to meet the new man in his mother’s life.
Argentina has produced a number of films illustrating the lives of individuals affected by the financial crisis, and most of these films concentrate on the minutiae of daily lives and the impact on relationships (Live-in Maid, Common Ground) . Conversaciones Con Mama is one of these films. It has its overly sentimental moments, but then it also has its largely understated scenes. At one point Jaime discovers that neither of his children are following the career paths planned by their parents. His son, for example, doesn’t want to a career in economics but instead he wants to be a tango dancer. At first, the response from the audience and from Jaime is skepticism, but then we see his son dance, and he’s really, really good. The idea seeps through the film that commodities aren’t what’s important–it’s people and their relationships that should be paramount consideration. This is an idea that becomes glaringly obvious to Jamie as he’s continually pressured by the status conscious Dorita to prise his mother out of her apartment. And this underscores the idea that due to the inauthenticity of capitalist values, independence is subsumed to materialism which then affects relationships and quality of life.