Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Mammoth, the English-language debut from acclaimed Swedish indie director Lukas Moodysson is an intriguing, but ultimately flawed attempt to deal with the weighty themes of Third World poverty and the consequences of global capitalism. It’s a valiant effort to combine social commentary with individual circumstances and personal dramas, but ultimately it bites off more than it can chew.

Set in New York, Thailand and the Philippines, Mammoth is an ambitious socio-political statement, wrapped up in the trappings of glossy production values. It tells the story of a wealthy family from New York: computer games wizard Leo (Gael Garcia Bernal), his wife Ellen (Michelle Williams), their young daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) and their Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito).

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Leo owns a successful computer games company and goes to Thailand to complete a major business deal. Meanwhile, his wife is a busy doctor with little time for her daughter, and so both parents rely heavily upon Gloria. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Gloria herself is only working as a nanny in order to provide a better life for her two sons back home and that she finds it increasingly difficult to live such a distance away from them. Divided between the three locations, the story encompasses a varied cast of characters which includes Gloria’s two sons and a Thai bar-girl named Cookie, who represents yet another unsavory aspect of the exploitative relationship between the West and the Third World – prostitution.

In tackling such themes as these in the way he has chosen to with Mammoth, Moodysson is setting himself up for a fall. The film can’t help but be moralising, a little sanctimonious, even patronising. Yes, we know about the West’s exploitation of the Third World in the name of globalisation. Yes, we know that it is the children who suffer as a result. And yes, we know that we are all implicated on some level. But for this type of social commentary to work, we must care enough about the characters and frankly this is the problem with Mammoth.

Its characters are simply not engaging enough to carry the weight of the themes it tries to handle, and viewers will find them difficult to identify with on anything other than a superficial level. The rich New York family are meant to represent one extreme of the capitalist spectrum but they are neither sufficiently unpleasant to elicit scorn, nor sufficiently engaging to inspire empathy. Likewise, the Filipino family feels underdeveloped and, while we sympathise with their plight, it is also very difficult to truly empathise with them.

In short, the plot and characterisation feel subordinate to the social commentary, as though it has been tacked on to fit around the director’s ‘grand statement’. For a film which deals in such emotive currency, it left me oddly cold.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2009
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Multi-strand story about life changes, sees a businessman affected by a trip to Thailand, his family affected by their Filipino maid, and the maid's family's trials without her.
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Director: Lukas Moodysson

Writer: Lukas Moodysson

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito, Sophie Nyweide, Run Srinikornchot, Tom McCarthy, Jan Nicdao

Year: 2009

Runtime: 125 minutes

Country: Sweden, Denmark, Germany


BIFF 2009

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