February 21, 2022

Cinco Lobitos: What Gets Passed On?

As a freelancer, the idea of what my future looks like feels like uncharted territory, stretching off into some hazy blue horizon. I'm currently in the process of sorting out a pension, and because I technically split my time between two countries, I'm working out which one is the right place to start it without having a clue where I'll be once I turn 65. The conversation around babies comes up more frequently than it ever has before, as more and more of my friends are taking the plunge. Helpfully, thanks to a friend's grandma's pendant ceremony, I now know I am due a boy and a girl at some point, so I'm in the habit of bookmarking related articles, all the while remaining in my 18sqm room on the 3rd floor of an apartment building.

Last night I saw the fantastic Spanish film Cinco Lobitos (Eng: Lullabies), starring Laia Costa and written and directed by Alauda Ruiz de Azúa.

Through the prism of an intergenerational family drama, it considers the reality of entering into responsible adulthood as a freelancer. It weaves an understanding that babies and ailing parents require almost complete dedication, while the realities of the gig economy mean that a job rejection throws you to the bottom of the heap when competing for the next project. There was a scene that I recognised as being all too stressful, when Costa's character Amaia takes a call from a fellow freelance writer who offers her a job doing some travelling overseas. Amaia fails to hide her scorn at the offer, holding her baby in her arms while her sick mother continues washing anchovies in the kitchen. We see that reality of not being able to truly take maternity leave (her partner is a theatre lighting designer, so must travel for weeks at a time), while performing at once the role of the good daughter and mother, takes its toll.

I also took away an understanding of the importance of emotional communication, both between young couples balancing work and a baby, and those who have been married for 30 years plus. Amaia and her partner Javi bicker about childrearing responsibility and the balance of sacrifice within the relationship. Her mother Begoña and father Koldo simmer with unresolved tension, perhaps from an affair of Begoña's when Amaia was young, perhaps from the constant berating they both suffer upon one another.

A moment of beautiful reprieve from stress is found in a video Koldo has made for his wife and daughter, charting Super 8 scenes of Amaia's childhood and juxtaposing these with those of her own daughter's first year. The moment is soured, however, when Koldo remarks, "it seems I can do something right" and Begoña replies "just this once". The camera lingers on Amaia, who understands it as a piece of cold ferocity. This is softened once we see Amaia later helping her mother, now deep in her sickness, to sort out her bedroom. Begoña asks her daughter what sort of mother she was. She replies that she had been harsh and quick to anger, not loving in the traditional sense. "I sound so cruel" replies her mother, to which Amaia suddenly realises she is talking not to her impervious mother, but to someone with feelings, and takes hold of her and tells her just how deeply she knew she cared. It gives her softly whispered demands to her baby that she must have a happy life added frisson, in the knowledge that doubtless her mother wished the same thing of her.

This contrast, between caring love, and expressive love, feels relevant to the film. The characters all care about one another, but not once does one of them say that they love them and mean it. At one point Javi tells Amaia, "I love you" to which she appears surprised, telling him he can't just say it without backing it up!

It reminds me of a recent trip in which a friend told me that she knew I cared about her, but that I hadn't actually told her that I enjoyed spending this time together. She knew, but she wasn't sure. I realised that I, too, express love not through words but through thoughts and actions that attempt to convey. Sometimes this can be powerful, but it doesn't make up for the lack of words.

This style of communication feels quite Northern. Northern European, perhaps, but having gone to see the film with a friend from the Basque Country, which is in the north of Spain, he remarked that this was something that tied him to Berlin, where he currently lives. Both places exhibit an ease with criticism and brusqueness and difficulty with authentic, loving communication. 

I came away deeply in love with the characters and their humanity, with a real urge to visit the windswept beauty of País Vasco, and an urgency in understanding just how deeply important it is that we express gratitude and kindness to those around us.

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