La Madre Muerta Review

Ishmael lives with Maite - who loves him, but whom he treats violently - in an abandoned house they occupied. One day, working in a bar he looks on the street and meets the eyes of Leire, a young and beautiful women, whose mother he killed in front of her when she was a child. Though he understands she's in an institution and mentally disconnected from the world, he fears she might identify him, so he decides to kidnap her.

by Kim Newman |
Published on
Release Date:

01 Jan 1993

Running Time:

107 minutes



Original Title:

La Madre Muerta

A description of the plot of La Madre Muerta (The Dead Mother) suggests an amazingly offensive exercise in taboo busting, but against the odds Bajo Ulloa’s film manages to be as touching as it is disturbing. In a snappy opening, violent burglar Ismael (Elefalde) shotgun—slays an art-restorer and wounds her young daughter. Years later, he has not reformed, dividing his time between casual crime (he drowns a bar-owner in his own beer) and brutalising his dependent, loyal wife Maite (Lio). He happens to see Leire (Alvarez), survivor of his earlier attack, grown into a beautiful catatonic who lives in a nearby institution.

Ismael becomes obsessed with Leire, planning to murder her and silence a potential witness but, realising that she is brain-damaged (as a result of his assault), kidnaps her instead. Maite tries an unwieldy ransom scheme and assumes Ismael is eager for pervy sex with the waif-like innocent. However, the compulsively brutal crook develops a weirdly credible and oddly unsettling tender streak. Meanwhile, a teacher from the orphanage investigates and Maite nags, pushing Ismael to further acts of violence.

The home stretch has a few too many jolts but the bulk of the film, which confines its three characters to an old dark house and has them misunderstand each other to comic and horrific effect, offers a remarkable display of black humour and suspense. Powerfully acted by a fine cast and written and directed with unusual tact, this is a very strong showing from a hitherto-unknown filmmaker. Don’t be put off by the subject, this really is an outstanding picture and the punchline, which hinges on Leire’s deep feeling for chocolate, is inspired.

Twisted art/noir masterpiece.
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