From Spanish creator Amalia Ulman, the darkly comedic El Planeta explores the relationship between a mother and daughter pair on the edge of financial ruin.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Director Amalia Ulman’s artistic work often blurs the line between reality and falsehood. In her previous work, Excellences & Perfections, Ulman staged a meticulously planned five-month social media campaign to explore our increasingly fabricated lives. El Planeta draws on similar themes, plucking inspiration from a tabloid story of mother-daughter scam artists, “Las Falsas Ricas”.
Ulman interweaves aspects of her own upbringing to establish a fictionalised tale of poverty and opportunity set against her decaying hometown of Gijón, unable to recover from the 2008–14 Spanish financial crisis. Mother-daughter pair, Maria and Leo’s (played by mother-daughter pair, Ale and Amalia Ulman) scams are clear-cut — they push the bill onto an imaginary, politician boyfriend with overwhelming success.
The film offers an off-beat humour to its exploration of feminism and female sexuality. Leo’s tentative steps towards sex work, romance and career opportunities are met with condescending laughter and insulting expectations (and endless criticism for her new, chic short hairdo). Is she willing to give a blow job for a book? Decidedly not.
Maria, graceful and glamorous, has no retirement plan and the food in prison’s gotten better, which lends itself to a “consequence free” spending spree. Able to strike a ballerina’s pose in a cramped kitchen and dance like Dolly Parton with oranges stuffed down her bra, Maria attacks life with childlike joy, right until the end. Their natural chemistry illuminates the unique joys (and annoyances) of familial love.
Shot in sharp black and white by Carlos Rigo Bellver (Through My Window), El Planeta delights in the colourful insights of its two unconventional women. — Rachael Rands