Most would call it a mother’s worst nightmare, but that clichéd phrase doesn’t really do justice to the gut-wrenching fear evoked in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s short film Madre (Mother). Madre is one of the shortlisted films for Best Live Action Short Film category at the 2019 Oscars. 

Marta (Marta Nieto) is preparing to head out with her mother (Blanca Apilánez) when she receives a phone call that seems to stop time. Her six-year-old son Iván (Ávaro Balas) is stranded alone on a beach in France after his father, Marta’s ex, heads back to their caravan and doesn’t return. He’s scared, the phone battery is running low and he’s completely alone. That is, until a man appears, and Ivan is told to run.

It’s a strikingly terrifying tale, and one that producer Eduardo Villanueva tells me is actually based on reality. “A friend of Rodrigo’s (Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen) had this situation. His ex was in France with her kid, and her kid called to say he was all alone on the beach. She panicked but then his father came back and it turned out to be only for a few seconds.” Sorogoyen has taken the adrenaline filled panic of those few seconds and extended them over 17 heart-stopping minutes to create an unforgettable viewing experience.

A stunning panoramic shot of a wild and vast beach sets the scene for the events that take place, but the film is firmly situated in Marta’s apartment in Spain. We never see Ivan, only hear his voice at various intervals on the phone. The viewer’s frustration at not being able to see one of the story’s central characters is mirrored in a superb performance from Nieto, who frantically tries to track down her son’s location. Her response builds gradually from self-enforced calm to hysterical panic; it’s painful yet gripping to watch.

The movie is one continuous sequence shot which helps to build the tension steadily throughout. According to Villanueva it was filmed in just one day, after a week of rehearsals used by the actresses to perfect the dramatic intentions of their roles. It’s slick and well-paced, showcasing some excellent camera work.

The wide angle lens used throughout helps to emphasise the vast space which is at the heart of this story, the thousands of miles between stricken mother and vulnerable son. It’s this and the inspired choice of music at the film’s climax that gives the piece just the right level of eerie, nightmarish agony.

Madre Review Miro

Marta Nieto in Madre

The short has been inundated with awards, including wins for Best Short Film at the Goya awards and José María Forqué Awards last year. Now, it’s been shortlisted for an Oscar in the Best Live Action Short Film category, and Villanueva is still overwhelmed by the film’s reception. “It was something we didn’t expect at all at the beginning, but then we started to realise we had something big. We hadn’t thought at all about the Oscars when we produced the film, we just thought ‘Let’s produce this great film and see what comes out of it’.”

However, it was before Madre’s critical success that the team decided to make a feature-length follow up to the tale. Now in post-production and due to be released in Autumn, the full length film follows Nieto’s character ten years down the line.Villanueva says: “Rodrigo had always wanted the story to continue, but not so much the story as the character. He wanted to know what happens to this woman after that, and to follow her and know a lot more about her, so that’s what the feature film is about.”

With Madre finishing on such a dramatic cliff hanger, the news that the story doesn’t end there is bound to please many viewers. But the short film alone is a well-crafted and original work that is gripping from the very start of a mesmerisingly long sequence shot that encapsulates an unforgettable story.

The Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday 22nd January 2019. See if Madre takes home the award on Sunday 24 February 2019. 

Verdict: ★ ★ ★ ★