‘Tamara and the Ladybug’ (‘Tamara y la Catarina’): Film Review

‘Tamara and the Ladybug,’ Mexican Lucia Carreras’ tale of an accidentally kidnapped baby, took top awards at the recent Los Cabos and Huelva festivals.

A sensitively told tale of female loneliness and vulnerability in the backstreets of Mexico City, Lucia Carreras’ Tamara and the Ladybug is a tale of against-the-odds female solidarity, which successfully rounds it out into something more than pure miserabilism. Driven by a masterful central performance from Angeles Cruz and a script that focuses on quiet emotional truths, Ladybug does have dramatic defects, and its intentions are not always matched by its execution. But such flaws have not stood in the way of success on its recent festival outings, with more foreseeably on the way for this third feature from a Mexican woman director with an increasingly high profile.

In the first scene, Paco (Harold Torres) ups and leaves the rundown home he’s been sharing with his 40ish, developmentally disabled sister Tamara (Angeles Cruz) and her pet lizard in the outskirts of the city. Tamara prepares for her day and heads for work at a run-down coffee shop; slowly it dawns on her that her brother will not be coming home anytime soon.

The Bottom Line

Quietly rewarding, if rather grim.

So that when she spots a baby she’ll later name Ladybug (Taby Regina) seemingly abandoned at a newsstand, it seems logical to the newly lonely Tamara that she should take the child home as a kind of pet. But Tamara doesn’t have the wit to look after it, so it’s lucky that the aging, principled local quesadilla stall owner Dona Meche (Angelina Pelaez) comes round to take both Tamara and her ladybug under her wing in a domestic setup that is, of course, desperately fragile from the outset. After all, Tamara has effectively kidnapped someone else’s baby.

Three generations, three females, isolated and vulnerable for three different social reasons: It’s a neat, clean-edged concept. The script takes it in two directions at once — first as a general study of human solitude, but second as a criticism of governmental lack of humanity in dealing with such solitude, as embodied in visits first to the police and then to a home for missing children — a brief but terrible experience for Dona Meche, who has Tamara’s evocatively shot and resonant final scene, like so much of the film shot by Ivan Hernandez at a fastidious mid-distance and with dull coloration that at times verges on monochrome.

Pacing is slow, in strict accord with Tamara’s own mental habits, without ever decelerating into the endless shots of (say) frying food so beloved of some Latin American filmmakers; again following Tamara’s character, there’s little dialogue, but what there is is telling. Occasionally the script makes an attempted detour into comic relief, as with a running joke involving the two women’s struggles to understand a cellphone. Far from being comic, the scenes show the women to be bonding over their mutual ignorance, and the comedy is best when in fleeting, glancing mode.

Given little to do in the way of dialogue, Cruz is obliged to construct the role of Tamara from the physical, and does so magnificently, if sometimes overstatedly. Tamara is a child, and every time joy or sadness pass through her mind, there it is in her frank, open expression; her loping, determined gait likewise quickly becomes a part of the character. The compact sobriety of acting vet Pelaez’s Dona Meche forms a nice counterpoint, while special mention should be made of the beautifully directed baby Taby Regina, whose reactions at every stage of the game are spot on, including a lovely moment of (presumably inadvertent) humor involving some water thrown over a diaper.

Production companies: Underdog, Cada Films
Cast: Angeles Cruz, Angelina Pelaez, Mercedes Pascual, Harold Torres, Taby Regina
Director, screenwriter: Lucia Carreras
Producers: Ana Virginia Bojorquez, Sandra Paredes
Executive producers: Rogelio Delgado,Concepcion Taboada
Director of photography: Ivan Hernandez
Costume designer: Gabriela Fernandez
Editor: Jose Manuel Rocha, Lucia Carreras
Composer: Pablo Cervantes
Casting director: Laura Trejo
Sales: Indie Sales

Not rated, 103 minutes