Maura Delpero’s feature debut portrays the reality of a house run by nuns for single teenagers, who are trying to adapt their needs to their new mother situation in this religious environment.
WEEKEND: “Maternal” portrays the reality of a religious “hogar” for young single mothers in Buenos Aires, run by Italian nuns. How did you come up with this as the frame for your first fiction film?
I wanted to do a film about motherhood as a complex event. Instinctively, I drove my attention to maternities that were more extreme in itself, considering they would allow me to go deep into the contradictory feelings most mothers feel: a particular situation to spotlight a more universal one. At the very beginning I was concentrated on the girls, attracted by the moving contradiction of the intensity of teenhood and motherhood sharing the same body and soul. While working into a religious hogar, I realized teenager motherhood was not the only paradox I was facing. Its cohabitation with the absent maternity of the nuns was definitely the big emotional short circuit of the film.
“I drove my attention to maternities that were more extreme in itself, considering they would allow me to go deep into the contradictory feelings most mothers feel: a particular situation to spotlight a more universal one.”
How common are these homes in Argentina? Could you tell us about your researching process?
There are several centres for teen mums both in Buenos Aires and in the rest of the country. They can be secular or religious. I worked in three of them teaching cinema workshops. It was my way to offer them what I am able to do, permitting the girls a free moment from maternity in which they were just young women learning by having fun, and enabling me to have access to their universe.
Why did you choose to move from documentary-filmmaking to fiction film with this story?
Because of two main reasons, connected both to my director’s path and to this film. My last documentary partly used a fiction language, this new film is a fiction that partly uses a documentary approach, so, in a way, it was an organic step forward in the same direction. I felt a professional personal need for living a “director-actor dynamic” and this film confirmed to me it is an artistic relationship I which I feel very comfortable.
On the other hand, the delicacy of the situation with minors asked me not to use a camera inside. I think I developed a kind of internal guide that tells me whether a situation can stand the intrusiveness of a documentary shooting or not. In this particular situation, I felt a precise sensation in my belly and I trusted it.
In “Maternal”, young women are trying to adapt to their new situation as single mothers in a religious environment, where Virgin Mary is a role model. How was the process of combining these two different realities and cultures into one place?
I think Virgin Mary, as well as Magdalene are still rolling as models not just in religious environments. They’re lively in our societies and still work very deeply both in male gazes on women and in women’s self-representation. It’s a film about women, some of them wear a religious veil, others have a big pregnant belly, other breastfeed a baby, all of them are feeling contradictory desires towards the big event of maternity and this connects them with a strong link.
“I think Virgin Mary, as well as Magdalene are still rolling as models not just in religious environments. They’re lively in our societies and still work very deeply both in male gazes on women and in women’s self-representation.”
The differences between the two worlds are further emphasized by the fact that the nuns are played by Italian actresses while the two teenage mothers, Lu and Fati, are played by two non-professionals. Can you tell us what lies behind this choice?
As you mention, it was an opposition that was already inside the story and that I wanted to go with. Still the idea was to create a unique playing voice and I am happy that the audience never finds out who are the professionals and who are not. Hmm…by the way, we’re revealing it through this interview!!
The three main characters, Lu, Fati, and Sister Paola also represent different approaches to being a mother. Can you comment on the film's overall message about motherhood?
I strongly rejected the idea of a dominant point of view, which I was often asked for, during the development of the film. It is a choral movie, with a collective, prismatic gaze on the same event and this plurality is also a political attitude. Maternity is complex and there is not a unique way to experience it. We always aim to models, but there is no perfect mother. It is a film about “maternage”, on taking care.
“Maternal” came out in a time of polemical anti-abortion laws in Argentina. How does the film relate and correspond to today’s political situation?
In Argentina, abortions are carried out illicitly, so when a woman decides to abort she depends on her own economic capabilities to do so in a safe way. The right to legal, safe and free abortion is not declared in the film, but one could read it between the lines, since these hogares exist into the frame of a society influencing its citizens with its laws. When I began, the movements asking for legalization were not so strong, now it is a current theme, so in way the film dialogues with the “Zeitgeist”.
What comes next for you? Do you have any future projects you would like to share with us?
I am in refreshing mode! Travelling a lot with distribution, recuperating energies, listening to myself, preparing a fertile ground for new plants.