Contemporary World Cinema

April's Daughter

Michel Franco

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In Mexican writer-director Michel Franco’s chilling examination of maternal instincts taken to extremes, the estranged mother (Emma Suárez, star of Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta) of a pregnant teen re-enters her daughter’s life, her energetic, take-charge attitude taking on considerably more disturbing hues once the child is born.

A chilling examination of maternal instincts taken to extremes, the latest from Mexican writer-director Michel Franco (After Lucía) stars Spanish actress Emma Suárez as a woman whose fierce passion and cunning seem drawn equally from Greek tragedy and film noir.

Seventeen years old and seven months pregnant, Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) appears beatific and content, living with her sister, Clara (Joanna Larequi), in a Puerto Vallarta bungalow and making plans for the future with her boyfriend, Mateo (Enrique Arrizon). Valeria had no plans to inform her estranged mother of her pregnancy, but after a call from Clara, April (Suárez) swoops in to offer abundant support. April is charming, youthful, energetic, and resourceful: an ideal grandmother. Once Valeria's child is born, however, April's take-charge attitude assumes terrifying hues.

What might have been crudely sensationalistic in the hands of a lesser director becomes eerily resonant under Franco's cool, unobtrusive gaze. April's Daughter is quietly iconoclastic, making the mère fatale its protagonist while keeping Valeria, the ostensible heroine, in the background for most of the story. The result of Franco's gambit is to keep us on edge, tantalizing us with the mystery of April's shadowy psychology. It also allows the formidable Suárez to take the helm in a role that is essentially the inverse of her celebrated performance in last year's Julieta.

DIANA SANCHEZ

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