Mararía (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

We offer two nods of respect to the filmmaker for many powerful and beautiful elements in this movie, but we have to stop short of complete "thumbs up" endorsement.

Scoop's comments in white 

Fermín is a young Spanish doctor who has taken an assignment to be the resident medic on the island of Lanzarote, one of the outlying Canary islands. After he lands there, he starts to have second thoughts about his new outback home. The landscape of lava desert is among the most forbidding and desolate landscapes on the face of the earth, the sparse population rarely needs any medical care, and there are few diversions from the hardscrabble agricultural existence of the locals. Fermín's life consists of no work during the day, followed by no play in the evening. 

Then he gets interested in María, a beautiful local girl.

He watches her work, and they begin to flirt mildly, but he is not the type of man who moves quickly with women, despite her subtle invitations and her expressed desire to find a man to take her from the provinces to a better life. He is conservative, a bit dour, and tends toward abstemiousness in his habits. He doesn't even drink the famous local wine.

As a result of his slow pursuit, he ends up losing María to a visiting English geologist, who also has the educated polish of an outsider, but is the type of man who does move quickly with women.

Fermín feels the loss deeply, but seems to accept his loss until he finds out that the Englishmen has gotten Mararía pregnant, and is planning to leave the country without her. This sends the doctor into a rage, which eventually results in great tragedy for all three members of the love triangle, not to mention the son she eventually bears. The film covers a six year period in the late 30's and early 40's.

This is a slow moving film with a predictable soap opera plot, but I liked several things about it

  • The cinematography is interesting, and the locales are unique and completely unfamiliar to me. This combination of circumstances produces some brilliant shots of the local terrain and the lives of the natives. The film won the annual Goya award for best cinematography in a Spanish film. 
  • Watching it is quite an educational experience. Even if you think you're a well educated man, you probably don't know that much about this volcanic island where many locals make a living through a unique viniculture that looks as if it were taking place on the moon, in which the wine comes from green bushes which grow on the bottom of round trenches. They are grown in these holes below the soil level to shelter them from the severe winds that affect the island. And you probably don't know that the local islanders use camels instead of horses when they need to cross the rugged terrain. 

The movie was based on a novel written by a native of the island, and the actual filming was done on location. Your viewing experience therefore includes a pretty accurate taste of the sights and customs of this island. The backdrop for the story is very impressive. I only wish that the melodramatic plot could match it. 


see the main commentary

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 2.35:1

  • no features

  • I was disappointed in the transfer, which is not sharp. The beautiful cinematography deserves a better DVD.

Tuna's comments in yellow 

Mararía (1998) is an exquisitely filmed tragic love story shot in the Canary Islands and set in the 1940's. Antonio José Betancor directed, and adapted the novel by Rafael Arozarena. Mararía (Goya Toledo) is a young woman living with her adopted mother, but longing to escape her small volcanic island and see the world. When a new doctor arrives in town, she considers him, but realizes that he is not likely to leave the island. Then a young British geologist arrives to study the volcanic formations and activity on the island. He is attractive, and a way out, so Mararía starts a relationship with him, and ends up pregnant. This begins a chain of events that the characters think is born of love, but is really a matter of obsession and selfishness.

The color palette and the photography is wonderful, and creates an atmosphere you can almost smell. Goya Toledo lights up the screen, and has a lengthy nude scene near the end where she shows the three B's, which include smallish but perky breasts, and a nice round butt. Some of the minor characters were well-acted as well. As to the story, I would have to say that I enjoyed it less than the other aspects of the film, and prefer love stories where at least somebody happily-ever-afters, but it was not bad enough to ruin the film for me. The DVD is bare-bones, and the film is in Spanish with English subtitles, but they had the good taste to put the subtitles in the black portion of the letterbox. 

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online, but the film was nominated for several Goyas (Spanish national film awards), and won for best cinematography.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.2
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics - or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is in the C's somewhere. Tuna says, "Rating is difficult. As a love story, it is a C-, but as an art film, and period piece, it is more like C+, and Goya Toledo is someone I will be watching." Scoop seconds the comments.

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