This documentary about the den mother of dancers at a Mexico City cabaret is vérité at its best.
At the Cabaret Barba Azul, women get paid to dance and drink with the male patrons, a custom that dates back to the 1930s. In the beautifully-rendered documentary “La Mami,” the director and cinematographer Laura Herrero Garvín (“The Swirl”) immerses us in the behind-the-scenes world of these dancers through the lens of their den mother: Doña Olga. Like them, Doña Olga also used to spend her nights dancing for pesos, but after 45 years working various jobs at the cabaret to support her five children, she has settled into her post in the club’s dressing room-bathroom combo. There she regulates the distribution of toilet paper with an iron fist, and doles out a charming mix of motherly nurturing and fierce rebukes. Like this bit of poetry: “Men are only good for two things: for nothing, and for money.”
Garvín’s adept camerawork allows the story to unfold so seamlessly in its vérité style, that the film emanates the magic of a scripted drama without revealing any noticeable interference. And it creates a palpable depth of intimacy too: from Doña Olga waving incense and whispering prayers throughout the club before the doors open, to the nervous new girl Priscilla putting on makeup in the mirror.
The triumph of “La Mami” is that in depicting how Doña Olga and the Barba Azul dancers navigate a job where male pleasure dominates, the film does not look down on them, but instead revels in their humanity. And in so doing, this remarkable portrayal of female friendship offers a poignant, elemental take on the lives of working-class women in urban Mexico today.
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes. In theaters.
Source: Movies - nytimes.com