¡Viva! Film Notes – Cinco lobitos

Dr Carmen Herrero, Manchester Metropolitan University, explores Alauda Ruiz de Azúa’s Cinco lobitos, screening as part of ¡Viva! Festival 2023 on 11 and 20 Mar.

Cinco lobitos (Lullaby): A contemporary tale of motherhood

Cinco lobitos – the film takes its title from a Spanish traditional lullaby – is Alauda Ruiz de Azúa’s first feature film. Born in the Basque Country in 1978, she holds a BA in English Language & Literature from the University of Deusto, and in Audiovisual Communication from the University of the Basque Country. She then moved to Madrid and graduated in Film Direction from the Escuela de Cinematografía y del Audiovisual de la Comunidad de Madrid (ECAM). She has had a very successful career in advertising and, in 2012, she founded her own production company, Igloo Films. She has also directed five short films, including Clases particulares (Private Lessons, 2005) and They Say (2011), receiving multiple awards nationally and internationally.

Her work must be understood in the context of women’s filmmaking in Spain. Over the last decade, Spanish female filmmakers have achieved unprecedented prominence. In the last few years, many of the films that have received international recognition have been made by a new generation of female directors. What is clear is that films directed by women are not a sideshow in film production, in fact they are among the most interesting films currently being made. It is significant that the Goya Award for Best New Filmmaker has been won by a woman for the last six years: Carla Simón, Arantxa Echevarría, Belén Funes, Pilar Palomero, Clara Roquet, and this year Alauda Ruiz de Azúa. Without a doubt, film schools such as the ECAM in Madrid and the ESCAC in Barcelona, where many of the members of this new generation have come from, have contributed to this phenomenal increase in the number of female filmmakers. Many of their projects have passed through the so-called “incubators”, mentoring programmes to develop their scripts. Lullaby has been financed mainly with public funds, and, in its development stage, it took part in the ECAM Incubator. These initiatives not only help to improve the films but they can also access financial support in markets outside Spain, as well as distribution at prestigious events. For example, Lullaby was selected for the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival and for the Official Section of the Malaga Festival.

Public institutions are fundamental in giving new female directors the opportunity to make their first and second films, but also the work of a previous generation of female directors (such as Isabel Coixet, Iciar Bollaín and Chus Gutiérrez) and producers have contributed to this progress. Likewise, the work of the Association of Female Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media (CIMA), created by women working in the film industry to influence the political agenda and promote a more equitable participation of women in the audio-visual industry, has been instrumental. One of the objectives of CIMA is to contribute to the successful construction of charactersand narratives that can help the audience to experience empathy towards women, where the femalecharacters are protagonists, active characters, with their own needs and desires.  A clear example of how this can be achieved can be seen in three films that are part of this year’s ¡Viva! programme: La Voluntaria (Nely Reguera, 2022), La Maternal (Pilar Palomero, 2022) and Cinco lobitos. These provide space to talk about the role of women in the family across different generations.

Cinco lobitos focuses on the mother-daughter relationship and on what it means to be a mother. It tells the story of 35-year-old Amaia, who has just become a mother. This is for her a challenging experience, even more so when her partner must leave for several weeks because of his job, and she struggles to cope with the demands of motherhood and her career as a freelance translator. Although it is not an autobiographical story, the filmmaker has recognised that her own personal experience of motherhood has intervened: “I wanted to delve into everything that motherhood triggers at an emotional, personal, and family level”. This process caused her to re-evaluate what it means to become a parent and, at the same time, to be a daughter. From other women’s experiences she started to collect testimonies, drawing a universal narrative about fears, myths and false images of what maternity means.

The topic of motherhood seems to be very current in the media and across different artistic representations. Talented female cineastes that have explored this topic recently include Belén Funes in La Hija de un ladrón (A Thief’s Daughter, 2019), Júlia de Paz Solva in Ama (2021), Pilar Palomero in Las Niñas (Schoolgirls, 2020) and La Maternal (2022) and Elena López Riera in El Agua (The Water, 2022). Pedro Almodóvar – a filmmaker who has always been interested in this theme, with notable examples being Todo sobre mi madre (All About my Mother, 1999), Volver (2006), Julieta (2016) and, more recently Madres paralelas (Parallel Mothers, 2021) – has praised Lullaby as “the best debut in Spanish cinema for years”. He has described this mother-daughter relationship drama as “a portrait of the role of women within the family, which is truthful, devoid of sentimentality and that does not exclude humour”.

As you will see in the film, the weight of childcare falls on the mother, and she is the one who pays a higher price professionally when trying to balance her career and responsibilities as a parent. Lullaby has a clear message: patterns are learned, in the same way that the traditional Spanish lullaby “Cinco lobitos” is passed down from generation to generation. Patterns are embedded in the family and society and, despite progress in gender equality, cultural changes are slow, and inequality persists.  Through Amaia and Begoña, her mother, the audience can see that in many ways sharing childcare responsibilities is still something to be achieved. And so, the film deals with the topic of care, how we take care of others; this explains, in part, why Lullaby has been a box-office hit in Spain, as it appeals to different generations, depicting the ethics of caring responsibilities within the family, and all with a sense of humour and emotion. As the director has declared: “I was really interested in the topic of care, how we take care of others, because that’s precisely where affection resides in all families”.

From an aesthetic point of view, in Lullaby there is a certain documentary style, aimed at getting a close-up view of what is happening within the family. It is a film mostly set in indoor spaces because, as the director has commented, the idea was, without being too invasive, to have the camera very close to the characters, “in their private space” and following their “habits, rules and customs”. We also see the characters’ routines in thecoastal town located in Bizkaia (the filming took place in Mundaka and Bakio). This Basque town represents the traditions of a patriarchal society, but it is also a refuge and a place to connect with the past, with Amaia’s childhood.

Without a doubt, the construction of the character and narratives represented in the film are enriched by the two lead actresses’ excellent performance: Laia Costa and Susi Sánchez, who also played a complex and sophisticated mother in La Enfermedad del domingo (Sunday’s Illness), directed by Ramón Salazar in 2018. For Lullaby, Laia Costa won Best Actress and Susi Sánchez won Best Supporting Actress at the Goya Awards 2023.

I hope you enjoy watching Lullaby and feel the complex portrayal of motherhood roles. I am sure that after watching the film you will be looking forward to another extraordinary contemporary tale of motherhood screening at ¡Viva! this year, La Maternal, directed by Pilar Palomero, that will be introduced by Dr Abigail Loxham on Tue 14th Mar.