Disturbing New Horror Film ‘La Pieta’ Tackles Incest, Dying, and Terrible Mothers [Fantasia 2022 Review]

It's gorgeous AND gross.

La Pieta

The beauty of film festivals like Fantasia is their eclectic programs full of weird cinema from all corners of the world. One shining example from this year’s edition is Eduardo Casanova’s second feature film La Pieta. Drenched in shades of pink, Casanova tells a tale of overbearing mothers, fascism, and the similarities those two things share. The result is one strange, yet surprisingly heart-breaking, film that navigates what it means to be free. 

Libertad (Angela Molina) and Mateo (Manel Llunell) are a mother-son duo with a very close connection. It’s just the two of them, with Mateo’s father abandoning the family when Mateo was very young. This created a deeply co-dependent relationship where Libertad projects her own insecurities and desires onto her adult son. The more Mateo shows a desire for his freedom, the tighter her grip becomes. She must always be taking care of someone. Without being the center of someone’s universe, she herself collapses like a dying star.

So when Mateo is diagnosed with brain cancer, Libertad absolutely spirals. It’s the perfect opportunity to make Mateo’s illness about herself. She even tries to get the doctor to tell her that she is the one with cancer, not her son. She wants to be sick and the center of attention, a martyr for her own narcissism. Mateo’s sickness also forces him to spiral as he realizes he simply can’t be free from his mother. Instead, he’ll always need her. It’s textbook co-dependency, but soaked in fantastical imagery including unicorns and pink silk quilted matching mother-son pajama sets.

Also Read: French ‘One Cut of the Dead’ Remake ‘Coupez’ Delivers a Surprisingly Fun Twist On The Original [Fantasia 2022 Review]

To really drive home the narcissism of Libertad, Casanova draws comparisons between her character (and mothers, in general) and dictators, specifically Kim Jung-il. The jarring tonal shifts between a wealthy Spanish family and political unrest in North Korea are disorienting at first and feel completely out of nowhere. But, Casanova cleverly unites the two with an on-the-nose declaration of the power that mothers hold over their children to the point of fascist control. 

Molina, known for her frequent collaborations with director Pedro frequent Almodovar, shines in La Pieta with a gorgeously campy performance as the sickly sweet Libertad. While her character’s dialogue is often exaggerated to establish how strange Libertad is, something sinister lurks underneath. Her performative martyrdom and love for her son are all a show for attention—she desperately wants to suck everyone into her orbit. Manipulation is her favorite game and she’s an expert player. 

The pastel-soaked production design heightens a sense of hyper-femininity. It feels ever so slightly removed from reality in how meticulously each room is set up and how bodies move within space. It feels vaguely magical. This aesthetic lulls the viewer into a false sense of security as Casanova will abruptly interrupt that aesthetic with body fluids and exposed flesh, a deluge of excrement that stains the delicate pinks.

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La Pieta is bizarre art horror at its finest. It’s outlandish but balanced, gross yet oddly beautiful with every scene perfectly framed and set. Think Yorgos Lanthimos with more colors, camp, and drama. Every shot is clean and perfect, almost sterile despite the pinkish hues that are draped across furniture and humans alike. While not dealing in explicitly queer themes, Casanova soaks La Pieta in a queer sensibility with both aesthetics and story. He subverts expectations of tales about patriarchy, motherhood, and finding freedom.

Casanova is swinging for the fences here and it pays off. He delivers an upsettingly relevant and inherently queer message about relationships between mother and child. Underneath the campy performances, discussions of Korean dictators, and cotton candy aesthetic is a sad story about longing for freedom but not knowing what to do with it. Casanova is a queer voice to follow in the transgressive horror space. He isn’t afraid to tell a bizarre story to convey a wider, more important truth about the nature of existing. 

4.0

Summary

Casanova is swinging for the fences here and it pays off, delivering an upsettingly relevant and inherently queer message about relationships between mother and child.

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