Not since Madonna got on her knees in the “Like a Prayer” video in 1989 has anyone been as horny for a saint as the heroine of Mamacruz, a housewife in her 70s who undergoes a sexual reawakening partly inspired by the holy images she, as part of her work as a seamstress, undresses and caresses on a regular basis. No one has Cruz’s (Kiti Mánver) touch when it comes to working with antique lace and fabric, the likes of which she has never worn herself, but mends and polishes so that holy statues in her church continue to dazzle.

I can’t say I blame Cruz! If ghosts can read reviews, I hope my great-grandmother doesn’t haunt me over my blasphemous memory of wanting to touch the statue of Jesus that paraded around our city on Easter Sunday. Covered merely by a small white sheet that concealed his privates, the resurrected Jesus was all nipples, pecs, and abs, which struck a chord that my younger self didn’t fully understand to be “desire” until many years later. 

Perhaps Cruz, too, had similar experiences growing up, but she has learned to conceal (even forget) them because of their improper nature. All it takes is an annoying pop-up ad on her tablet to send Cruz down a spiral of desire, as she believes she’s won an obscene amount of money, but instead is led to a treasure trove of pornography. Penises covered in chocolate syrup, perky breasts that seem to jump from the screen, and moans, the likes of which her household hasn’t heard in ages.

Cruz’s nights are instead set to the music of her indifferent husband’s (Pepe Quero) snores: he falls asleep on the couch, interrupting the telenovela where the words coming out of Venezuelan star Fernando Carrillo’s mouth seem to hold a spell on her. After four decades of marriage, her husband doesn’t even notice when Cruz starts wearing makeup and dressing nice. When she grabs his hand to touch herself, he gives a disdainful look, as if to ask: have you lost your mind?

Ridden with guilt, especially after she tries to kiss a muscular statue of Jesus in church, Cruz begins attending a support group where she discovers a motley crew of women who talk about the importance of orgasms and list the pros and cons of the sex toys they’ve been using. 

In Mamacruz, director Patricia Ortega (who co-wrote the screenplay with José Ortuño) tells a moving tale of a woman who must rescue herself from oblivion when she’s become practically invisible to everyone around her. When she asks her daughter (Silvia Acosta) about orgasms during a video call, the younger woman, who is abroad for work, looks at her mother with disgust, for the first time wondering if she should have left her daughter under her mother’s care.

Sexual desire is the ultimate sin in Cruz’s community, ruled by a silent “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy that no one seems to have questioned thus far. Instead of dwelling on the past and what she might have lost, Ortega––who was inspired by a sensual photograph she found of her own mother––paves a bright erotic path for her heroine. 

Mánver takes on the part with ferociousness, creating a portrait of womanhood that challenges dogmatic ideas about the limits of desire. With her delicious Mamacruz, she makes us realize not much separates religious and sexual ecstasy, both of which can often connect us to our higher selves. 

Mamacruz premiered at Sundance 2023.

Grade: B

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