San Sebastian Award-Winner Celia Rico Talks Málaga Competition Title ‘Little Loves’: ‘I Want to Show Mothers and Daughters With Nuance’

Simmering inner turmoil, regret and a relationship on the mend feature as themes in “Little Loves” (“Los Pequeños Amores”), Spanish filmmaker Celia Rico’s anticipated second feature, which premiered in competition this week at the Málaga Film Festival.

Rico’s 2018 feature debut, “Journey to a Mother’s Room,” won the Youth Jury Award at San Sebastian Film Festival, and received a Special Mention in the New Directors competition.

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Sold by Latido (“The Beasts”), “Little Loves” opens with Ani (Adriana Ozores), an independent woman with a sharp tongue and a knack for living as she pleases. When she injures herself attempting to paint her sprawling countryside home, her globetrotting middle-aged and single daughter Teresa (María Vázquez) sacrifices a Massachusetts holiday to aid in her recovery.

“I want to think that the women we’re directing show mothers and daughters on the screen with nuance; we bring them closer to the people we are, the people who surround us: complex, contradictory, strong and vulnerable at the same time, with beautiful wrinkles, menopause and loves that have perpetuated some gender mandates that need questioning,” Rico tells Variety.

The pair, reluctant and unnerved to pass the hours together after so many years apart, slowly warm to the concept after young Jonás (Aimar Vega), hired to finish painting the home, acts as an unwitting conduit, his outgoing and curious nature engaging them both, coaxing their well-buried empathy to the surface.

Both women ponder the roles of mother, caretaker, daughter and confidant as the film advances, dissecting the trivial bits of requited love that accumulate to form a display of adoration in the long hours spent getting reacquainted.

Rico, whose “Journey to a Mother’s Room” also explores a tense mother and daughter dynamic, manages a gentle drama that bears temperate and enduring witness to the relationship between an aging mother and her adult daughter.

Bristling and altruistic at once, their relationship changes course as the two reconvene around their shared womanhood; in close quarters, they mince words, discuss memories and work toward managing their fear of what’s to come.

“Making this film is my way of demystifying the unconditional and all-powerful love of the mother, of lightening the debt of the daughter who has to return it in the same measure and become a mother to her mother. At some point, that romantic idea of the first and great love for our mother has made us depend on it, or lack it, more than necessary, and has turned us, depending on the case, into adult children,” Rico explains.

“I wonder if it’s possible to cultivate another love that’s healthier, more balanced, less traumatic, which, in the process, also helps us understand that all the other emotional ties that will come later, throughout our sentimental life, are also great myths that we can de-romanticize and, thus, multiply and branch into what I call ‘little loves.’”

Their divergent perspectives of what a proper life entails sow discord and peak inquisition and respect. At one point, Teresa overhears Ani gloating with pride over Teresa’s world travels, something Ani wouldn’t have imagined possible for herself as she was coming-of-age, a woman born to an era where marriage and children dictated the future for many.

“They both carry what’s been socially and historically expected of them, caring and being cared for, setting limits and being obedient. But not only that, Teresa and Ani belong to two generations with different values and education that have led them to choose opposite paths in life,” Rico says.

“Even if they declare their particular war of opinions, the mother-child bond goes beyond the ins-and-outs of understanding, it has deeper ties of tenderness, it’s delicate. Deep down, they both know that they’re at exactly the same crossroads, accepting that time passes for both of them and, even so, they can still enjoy a walk together. Or take distance when necessary, an equally valid option,” she adds.

The cast, tight-knit, weave their way in and out of the rooms of the home, Teresa only occasionally stepping out to meet with friends. Establishing shots of the house make it seem grand, but the intimate scenes close-in on the protagonists, their every thought, desire and grievance strewn upon the canvas of their stoic faces in earnest.

“Little Loves” bowed in competition this week at the Malaga Film Festival.
“Little Loves” premiered in competition this week at the Malaga Film Festival.

“It’s a film with few characters, very focused on what worries and occupies the two leads. Although there are other people present in both of their thoughts, they remain discreetly off-screen. Hence the importance of the casting process, I wanted to find two actresses capable of filling the characters with layers and edges, but who could also contain in their bodies and looks the weight of the biographical, of what they experienced with those absent characters. Together with casting director Mireia Juárez, we reflected a lot on the particularities of the characters to refine the casting decision as much as possible. She proposed María Vázquez and Adriana Ozores. We gave them both a test and it was a gift to see them work,” Rico says.

Produced by Spain’s Viracocha Film alongside Arcadia Motion Pictures and Paris-based Noodles Production – the latter two boasting credits on Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated “Robot Dreams” – Rico manages a universally poignant narrative. In the end, the two women inch closer to the same fate; as age comes for us all and there’s no guarantee that those we cared for will be around to cradle us in those moments that come last, when sturdy plans fail us and our lives, in some regard, are left to chance.

“When endeavors of love fade, or don’t have the purpose of forming a family, when we dedicate all our efforts and hours to a vocation, to a professional career, some daughters who are always daughters – daughters without children – are scared by the idea of growing old or getting sick alone, with no one to help us if we injure a leg, or the house catches fire. The mothers who spent sleepless nights for us are not eternal or are already tired of being the ones always available at the edge of our beds,” Rico says.

“Having children isn’t a guarantee of anything either. They aren’t brought into the world to obtain the safe passage of unconditional love and care. However, there they are, inhabiting the houses of others with cries and screams that later – or so we daughters without children imagine – will be arms that they raise, hands that hold or dial the emergency number. So the tinkle of an old ditty still sounds like an echo from the old world: if you have no children, who takes care of you when you grow old?” she continues.

“With what’s happening right now, who can trust that a new model of care, capable of answering this question without generating too much anxiety, is possible in the not-so-distant future? I don’t know if making a movie is the best way to cure my fear of that question. But at least it’s a respite to share my fear with whoever comes to a theater to see it. Maybe someone will tell me later that the same things happen to them or that they no longer happen to them. I guess this is the only way I can think of to tenderly face the uncertainty of what’s to come.”

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