by Anthony King
In writer/director Juanma Bajo Ulloa's crime-thriller The Dead Mother (1993), he and his actors carefully walk along the border of forging a beautiful arthouse jewel and creating a heinous, borderline-inappropriate exploitation film. It takes a confident director and a cast of trusting individuals to accomplish such a feat, and, fortunately, Bajo Ulloa and company do just that.
The film opens with a burglar sneaking through a dark apartment, A woman awakes, spots the thief, and is shot and killed. As the man is escaping back out through the kitchen window he turns to see a young girl staring at him. He raises his gun, and just as he pulls the trigger, the screen turns to black. It's now twenty years later and the burglar-turned-murderer, whose name is Ismael Lopez de Matauko (Karra Elejalde), is now tending bar. He notices a young woman outside the bar accompanying an older woman. Immediately, after making eye contact with the young woman, Matauko realizes this is the little girl he had shot all those years ago. Lopez follows her and learns that the young woman, whose name is Leire (Ana Alvarez), is developmentally disabled with the mental age of a small child and mute because of him, and now lives in a mental hospital. Along with his girlfriend, Maite (Lio), Lopez concludes he must kill Leire before she turns him in.The Majestic (2001), or even Man on the Moon (1999), Elejalde showcases his knack for disappearing into the character and delivers a remarkable and unforgettable performance. It's breathtaking how he's able to slowly transform from this monster who doesn't think twice about killing a woman and her daughter into an empathetic caretaker. Ana Alvarez is tasked with the impossibly difficult job of portraying a character with the mental capacity of a small child conveying fear and sadness while having zero dialogue. Whereas Elejalde is able to effectively express his point of view with both words and actions, Alvarez can only use minimal actions. The way the two actors communicate and play off one another is one of the most unique and believable duo performances I've ever seen.
The Dead Mother is yet another highlight from Radiance. Ripe for discovery, this film is sure to captivate audiences interested in genre-bending storytelling with exceptional performances.
Blu-ray release date: September 19, 2023
PCM Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
4K restoration of the film supervised and approved by director Juanma Bajo Ulloa
Uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio
Audio commentary by Bajo Ulloa
“The Story of The Dead Mother”– a documentary on the making of the film featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew (2008, 38 mins)
"El reino de Victor" – Goya Award-winning short film by Bajo Ulloa, restored in 4K (1989, 38 mins)
Gallery of behind-the-scenes and promotional imagery
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by Xavier Aldana Reyes, author of Spanish Gothic: National Identity, Collaboration and Cultural Adaptation; newly translated archival writing by Juanma Bajo Ulloa, co-writer Eduardo Bajo Ulloa; and an appreciation by Nacho Vigalondo
Limited edition soundtrack CD featuring Bingen Mendizábal’s sumptuous score [exclusive to the limited edition]