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There is no one like mom. Mexico: atypical maternities in the 20th century

One of the main axes of Mexican cinema in the 20th century is the character of the self-sacrificing mother. The little white-head, or almost little white-head, who endures various humiliations to support her children, as in Madre querida by Juan Orol, Corona de lágrimas by Alejandro Galindo, Soledad by Miguel Zacarías or El día de las madres by Alfredo B. Crevenna. However, Mexican films offered different stories, unlike the usual stories of maternal sacrifice and abnegation.

Thus, despite revisiting the theme of maternal suffering, some films move away from melodrama to explore poignant realism, unintentional humor, extreme sadism, or even extreme violence, featuring unconventional mothers, as seen in Luis Buñuel's Los olvidados. Here, Stella Inda rejects Pedro, her eldest son (Alfonso Mejía), the product of a rape, while having a brief sexual encounter with her son's friend/enemy: El Jaibo (Roberto Cobo). Also, in a scene that allegorizes the son's repressed Oedipus, Pedro dreams of his mother wearing a white nightgown floating near his bed.

Los olvidados (1950, Dir. Luis Buñuel)

The motherhood portrayed by Ninón Sevilla in Emilio Fernández's Víctimas del pecado is also unconventional. Violeta is a "fichera" (a nightclub employee who charges a percentage of what customers consume) and dancer. She rescues the son of a colleague from a garbage can in front of the Revolution Monument. She ends up in jail and is redeemed by the love of that child, the brilliant Ismael Pérez. Anthological scenes, such as Poncianito standing at the base of the Monument to the Mother or bringing shoes to his mother locked up in prison on Mother's Day, while encountering some "inhuman" guards blocking his path.

María Félix broke away from stereotypes by taking on diverse roles. In Doña Bárbara by Fernando de Fuentes, she transforms Andrés Soler, the man she seduced and enchanted, into a shabby man with whom she has a daughter named Marisela (María Elena Marqués). Marisela, a wild character, competes with her mother for the affection of Santos Luzardo (Julián Soler). In Tito Davison's Que Dios me perdone, María plays a secret spy suffering from shell shock, who brings misfortune to the men attempting to blackmail her about the whereabouts of the daughter she left in Europe. In Antonio Momplet's Vértigo, she is forced to marry an older man (Jorge Mondragón). Eventually widowed, she becomes the lover of Emilio Tuero, who is dating her daughter Lilia Michel.

Doña Bárbara (1943, dir. Fernando de Fuentes)

There are many vengeful mothers, but before all, Columba Domínguez, in Ismael Rodríguez's Los hermanos del Hierro, embraces longed-for revenge against the murderer of her husband (Eduardo Noriega), who was killed in front of her two young children who grow up educated in hatred and revenge (Antonio Aguilar and Julio Alemán), amidst a climate of machismo, revenge and psychopathic instincts. In contrast, one of the most moving and strange maternal characters in Mexican cinema was played by Pina Pellicer in Roberto Gavaldón's Días de otoño. This is the story of a young woman who dreams of a good marriage and children and ends up faking a wedding and a pregnancy.

Sara García brought a unique touch to her roles in the 60s and 70s. For instance, she played the role of a rebellious old mother in ¿Porqué nací mujer? by Rogelio A. González, who decides to leave her husband and annoying family. In Mecánica Nacional by Luis Alcoriza, she portrayed a defiant grandmother/mother who bluntly tells everyone off and succumbs to stomach issues. In Fin de fiesta by Mauricio Walerstein, she played the role of a millionaire mother who tolerates and conceals the misdeeds of her hedonistic son, portrayed by José Gálvez. On the other hand, Katy Jurado depicted a distressed and aggressive mother in a legal battle, blaming her son (Fernando García Ortega) for the accidental killing of her alcoholic husband, played by Julio Aldama.

Sara García

In Jaime Humberto Hermosillo's film Intimidades en un cuarto de bañoMartha Navarro portrays the unexpected role of the authoritarian mother, contrasting with the protective mother who supports her son's homosexual relationship in another Hermosillo film, Doña Herlinda y su hijo. Ana Ofelia Murguía also showcases extremes of motherhood in her roles for directors Felipe Cazals and Arturo Ripstein. On one hand, she plays the harsh mother-in-law in Los motivos de Luz, and the controlling mother of singer Lucha Reyes in La reina de la noche. In Los motivos de Luz she makes life a living hell for her daughter-in-law (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), who is married to her son Alonso Echánove, drawing inspiration from the case of Elvira Luz Cruz, who supposedly killed her children.

In Ripstein's Principio y fin, Julieta Egurrola takes charge of her children and prioritizes the well-being of her youngest son (Ernesto Laguardia) by sacrificing the unrealistic expectations of her other children. Eventually, the youngest son becomes a destructive force, causing turmoil in the lives of his siblings and ultimately meeting a tragic end. Additionally, two remarkable maternal figures from the 1990s stand out: Maryse Sistach's Los pasos de Ana and María Novaro's Lola. These are two young single mothers navigating life while challenging traditional male-dominated attitudes. For instance, Ana, portrayed by Guadalupe Sánchez, documents her children's lives through a video diary. On the other hand, Lola, played by Leticia Huijara, wanders through a city shattered by the 1985 earthquakes with her young daughter.