Directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall
In this modern-day vision of Mother Mary's pilgrimage, a woman crosses the American Southwest playfully deconstructing the woman’s role in a world of roles.
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★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd
Excerpt from my review for MUBI:
Ma uses filmic space to explore the signifying power of bodies and the objects around them. The ride on the car hood, for instance, is a funny gag. But as Ma and Daniel drive through the golden, sun-beaten desert, the image of a half-dressed woman atop a slate blue 1950s automobile, winding into the dusty hills, takes on an awkward imagistic power, somewhere between anachronism and dystopian futurity. We are introduced to Ma first as lost, then as a kind of confused hood ornament. From this point on, we will come to know Ma as someone caught between the identities foisted upon her (sometimes violently), and those she herself develops as she struggles to define her own subjectivity.
The extended sequence in the motel room is a fascinating study in attenuated desire and self-realization, with objects and setting playing a vital part in this process. First of all, Ma, her clothing in tatters, dons some of Daniel’s extra clothes. In men’s underwear and a button-down, Ma’s androgyny becomes more pronounced, and as Rowlson-Hall plays it, Ma wavers between inchoate desire for Daniel (flirting, rolling around) and pre-adolescent parallel play, undefined by gender division (building a fort out of the bedsheets, jumping on the bed). The space of the motel room itself is played like an instrument, or occupied like a womb. This is a place where Ma feels safe, and she cannot read Daniel’s mounting frustration.
Several things are happening at once. Rowlson-Hall is implementing a body-centered, phenomenological performance style, one that is thematically appropriate to her inquiry into the idea of the virgin birth, and the pregnant / childbearing body more generally. As she moves around and through the various locales of Ma, Rowlson-Hall generates space with her body, in the chiasm between it and the surfaces of objects. But she is also combining this focus on the body-as-locus with a task-oriented form of dance and movement.
★★★★ review by bloodclay on Letterboxd
hypnotic and surreal
quiet, but so powerful
★★★★ review by LePage on Letterboxd
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Whenever I go to the movie theater I want there to be at least one expansive silent dance western biblical parable playing.
★★★★ review by David Whitehouse on Letterboxd
like a contemporary revision of a Jodorowsky film, filtering his penchant for desert surrealism through feminine perspective, digital video, and a silent film aesthetic. remarkable
★★★½ review by Steven Cohen on Letterboxd
Ma is Celia Rowlson-Hall's odd modern-day reinterpretation of the story of the Virgin Mary. Rowlson-Hall (who choreographed the titular episodes in last year's The Fits) invests much of her energy into the inextricable link between movement and performance. The film itself tracks the Mary-analogue, Ma (Rowlson-Hall herself), as she and her version of Joseph, Daniel (Andrew Pastides), get to know each other. The movie diverges pretty drastically from the story that inspires it, focusing instead on the ways that Ma manages to fend for herself. I think. Rowlson-Hall's film features no spoken dialogue, so it's all about what the physical performances convey about the characters. Ma is a unique vision, and while I don't grasp all of what Rowlson-Hall intends, I was affected by the images she brings to the screen. Any movie that manages to be so singular deserves attention.
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