Telemundo is a Spanish language television network based in America. The network is famed for it’s overly dramatic and slightly cringe worthy soap operas. For Phil Collins’ new work Soy Mi Madre, he recreates a half-hour Telemundo-styled soap opera with actual Telemundo actors. This film, though entertaining and humorous at times, has a political undercurrent of race and social class issues embedded within the narrative.
The narrative follows five characters; three of the characters are hired servants to the other two. The storyline builds through rapid character development. There are sudden jumps in the narrative increasing the melodramatic quality of the episode. The basis of the story revolves around the discovery that one of the workers is injured and the family cannot afford the medical expenses. They ask the mistress of the house for a salary sub but this request is denied flat out and callously. The two servants, mother and daughter, become desperate and repeatedly beg the mistress for the money. The final scene reveals that the mistress was having an extramarital affair with the injured worker and that the mother of the servant is also the mother of the mistress. The episode culminates with the mistress being forced at gunpoint to clean an expensive broken vase off of the floor.
The amazing thing about this work is not just the complex twisting storyline but also the construction of the work in regards to the role of the actual actors. The four main characters are played by a multitude of actors. The first change of actors is easily missed since the switch was so subtle; this twist makes the audience feel a bit guilty for not recognizing the immediate change of person. As the narrative builds, the changes become more obvious. Issues surrounding class distinctions due to race and social status are played out amazing well and tastefully. In one scene the camera swings around and shows the camera crew and help. The actor playing the maid mother walks off of the set to be greeted ironically with a runner holding a tray of drinks. The runner is waved off and dismissed by the actor. In another scene, obvious racism towards the indigenous people within Mexican culture is revealed when the mistress denies her own mother by calling her an “Indian” and demands her to tell her husband who her father was in order to restore her status.
Collins’ work is a subtle social commentary on Mexican social hierarchy and internal racism. It is definitely an episode.. erm.. exhibition not to be missed.
--David Yu, London City Editor
All images courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery
Phil Collins, soy mi madre, 2008, 16mm film transferred to digital video, 28 minutes, @Phil Collins, Courtesy the Artist / Victoria Miro Gallery, London