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It's the Global Economy, Stupid

Mammoth (2009)

Memfis Film/P.A. Jörgensen/IFC Films

“Mammoth," the English-language debut of Lukas Moodyson (“Lilya 4-Ever”) takes itself very, very seriously. Were the ponderous visuals, mannered atmosphere and overwrought soundtrack not enough evidence of that fact, the endless stream of scenes featuring actors dramatically expressing their characters’ inner turmoil confirms it. It’s one of those international compendiums with various storylines centered on the same weighty themes, which mean to say so much about the human condition and modernity that they end up saying perilously little.

Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams play Leo and Ellen Vidales, a married New York couple. Mom and dad work all the time — she as a surgeon, he as a video-game entrepreneur — so their daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) grows closest to her Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito). As things begin, Leo leaves the family for a business trip to Thailand, on which he ends up briefly dropping off the grid on a solipsistic quest of self-discovery. In the Philippines, Gloria’s sons struggle without their mother while back in New York, a suffocating Ellen worries that her constant work schedule has destroyed her relationship with her daughter.

The moral of the story — work obligations in our globalist 21st century society have destroyed the nuclear family — gets hammered incessantly. Nothing of consequence happens in the narrative — comprised mostly of prettified scenes of Mr. Bernal or Ms. Williams looking serious — so Mr. Moodyson has ample time to remind us that their family and Gloria’s have been badly fractured. Lots of carefully-composed shots — the camera, perched behind Mr. Bernal, reveals an imposing cityscape; Ms. Williams tears up as Jackie and Gloria bond over Tagalog etc. — amount to window dressing, as they drive home that same repetitive idea.

Despite the best efforts of Ms. Williams, who projects a subtle, glamour-free realness, and several scenes that have an aura of truth to them, the movie’s undone by its stagnant reliance on its well-worn style and its lack of compelling content. The filmmaker builds up so many small moments of anguish that one expects a dramatic climax that never comes. “Mammoth” remembers the “slow” and forgets the “burn.”


Opens on Nov. 20 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson; director of photography, Marcel Zyskind; edited by Michal Leszczylowski; music by Jesper Kurlandsky, Erik Holmquist and Linus Gierta; production designer, Josefin Asberg; produced by Lars Jonsson; released by IFC Films. This film is not rated.

WITH: Gael García Bernal (Leo), Michelle Williams (Ellen), Marife Necesito (Gloria), Sophie Nyweide (Jackie), Jan Nicdao (Salvador), Martin Delos Santos (Manuel), Maria Del Carmen (Grandmother), Perry Dizon (Fernando), Run Srinikornchot (Cookie) and Tom McCarthy (Robert Sanders).


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