APES ON FILM: Life IS Like a Box of Chocolates in Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s THE DEAD MOTHER

Posted on: Jan 26th, 2024 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Karra Elejalde, Ana Álvarez, Lio, Silvia Marsó
Director: Juanma Bajo Ulloa
Rated: Not rated
Studio: Radiance Films
Region: Region A
BRD Release Date: October 10, 2023
Audio Formats: Spanish LPCM 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 111 minutes


The old saying “like taking candy from a baby” implies the ease of stealing something from someone particularly helpless or uninformed, but anyone with children knows this idiom is a bit misguided. When a child wants something badly enough, removal of said something is the equivalent to defusing an H-bomb with a sledgehammer.

The first instance of this phrase appears in the short story “Experiences of a Verdant Bookmaker” from the collection Taking Chances (1900) by Clarence Louis Cullen. In the story, a grocer who’s given up on his humble profession becomes a bookie and tries playing on an unfair advantage at the racetrack. The phrase originates: “Now, this looked like a pretty good thing to the groceryman. It looked like taking candy from a child.” So, no children were harmed or even involved in the saying’s origins, but over the years it’s become a cliché prevalent in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to a literal on screen translation in Spanish filmmaker Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s 1993 film THE DEAD MOTHER (LA MADRE MUERTA).

Ulloa’s film begins with a burglar, Ismael (Karra Elejalde), searching for the home of an art restorer in the middle of the night. The requisite black sock hat and flashlight lets us know he’s up to no good. We don’t know what Ismael is looking for, just that he’s not finding it. What we do know is there’s a child in the house, and the mother, startled by Ismael’s knocking around, appears and informs him there’s no money, and finds herself on the business end of a shotgun. As Ismael makes his escape, he takes a chocolate bar from the child’s highchair, but before he can slip out the kitchen window, young Leire (Raquel Santamaría) stands combative, wielding a large stick poised to avenge her mother, and ostensibly defend the chocolate bar Ismael has helped himself to.

Fast forward several years later, we see that Ismael is still up to his crooked ways (not unlike author Cullen’s grocery store bookie), working as a bartender under an alias. Leire (Ava Álvarez) is now in her teens and is living out her days as a mute, afflicted with the arrested mind of a child in an institution for the mentally impaired. Leire’s caretaker Blanca (Silvia Marsó), takes the girl out on daily walks, and on one particular outing Leire and Ismael cross paths, both recognizing each other. This time Ismael and his girlfriend Maite (Lio) skip the candy and go for taking the baby instead, kidnapping Leire and holding her for ransom. “Like taking a patient from an institution.” Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

Aside from Blanca’s attempt to rescue Leire, the film is a character study of the strange dynamic amongst Ismael, Leire, and Maite. Jealousy abounds when Maite realizes that Ismael’s internal conflict won’t permit him to murder Leire. A rift forms between the couple as Ismael negotiates a spectrum of emotions regarding Leire; processing everything from guilt to paternal role play to outright lover becomes a crucible for Ismael.

Chocolate remains the connective tissue that binds the strange relationship between Ismael and Leire. At one point, as Ismael is about to force Leire in front of an oncoming train, she drops a candy bar into a puddle and attempts to eat it. Ismael pulls her from the railroad tracks just as the train passes and explains to the girl that she shouldn’t eat the candy because it’s dirty. In this case the mutual regard for chocolate and a strange parental instinct intervenes and saves Leire. The scene is also particularly odd given that while Ismael is contemplating a horrible manslaughter style death for Leire, he becomes more concerned with the poor hygienic choice to eat muddy chocolate.

Chocolate takes on a visually symbolic role permeating the film’s surroundings. Wall paneling and doors often mimic the delectable treat making it emblematic of protection, or imprisonment—your mileage may vary. If nothing else it is the one thing that remains to remind Leire of her dead mother and serves as a trigger for Ismael in the same regard.

As for dead mothers, there’s little mention of the one from the beginning of this film as the story progresses. Seconds before Ismael kills Leire’s mother, he spots a damaged painting of a mother and child; a diagonal slash through the canvas separates the two at the mother’s head. Imagery of that same slash appears throughout the film reminding us of the tragic separation between Leire and her mother. The image becomes representative of the loss Leire is unable to express because of her now impaired condition, the cause of which is eventually revealed, disclosing the catalyst for Ismael’s strange turmoil and affection for the girl.

Ismael’s peculiar obsession with odors and his attempts to earn a smile from Leire are other quirks reflecting the man’s internal unrest and response to personal change through his present experience. In a moment near the end of the film, Ismael, injured by a gunshot, is seated on a train next to a woman with a crying baby in a dirty diaper. Given Ismael’s well-established abhorrence for foul odors, we know he is aware of the soiled baby, but his metamorphosis through his fondness for Leire, along with his humbled and impaired condition, finds him silent and compassionate for the mother and child.

Radiance Films presents THE DEAD MOTHER in high definition on Blu-ray disc with a host of special features including a documentary on the making of the film; Ulloa’s short film “Victor’s Kingdom”; an audio commentary from the director; and, an image gallery. The limited edition features a booklet with writing on the film by Xavier Aldana Reyes and a newly translated archival essay by director Ulloa and co-writer Eduardo Bajo Ulloa. The crown jewel of this release, however, is the inclusion of a bonus CD of the film’s mysterious score by composer Bingen Mendizábal.

The bizarre, nearly inexplicable dynamic shared between Ismael and Leire is mostly foreign to us, but also anchors the film in curiosity. Its emotional beats are compelling enough to keep viewers involved, but seemingly at a distance. THE DEAD MOTHER is a vicarious experiment exploring specific scenarios of inner upheaval as a consequence of bad deeds by misguided people and the journey of loss through the mind of a child. Taking candy from a baby costs big bucks in emotional currency.



When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Shop Around: Five Retro-tastic Valentine’s Gifts for Your Gent

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2012 By:

By Jennifer Belgrad
Contributing Editor

All right, it’s down to the wire. Do you know what you’re getting your Kool Kat? No ideas? Don’t Panic. I got you. In no particular order, here are five fantastic and local gift suggestions for your special someone:

Plaza Theatre Memberships: What could be more perfect? A whole year of date nights taken care of in one fell swoop and you support Atlanta’s oldest continuously running independent cinema, which opened in 1939! There’s even a deal for a couple’s membership. Done!
Film Fan: $45 – Membership card, Plaza T shirt, one free movie pass, 1.50 off one regular admission Sunday – Thursday*, one invitation to our annual membership party. ($29 is tax deductible)
Double Feature Fan: $80 – Two membership cards, two Plaza T shirts, two free movie passes, 1.50 off regular admission for Two Sunday – Thursday*, Two invitations to annual membership party. ($48 is tax deductible)
Cast and Crew: $250 – Two tickets to the Silver Scream Spook Show + Two membership cards, two Plaza T shirts, four free movie passes + 1.50 off regular admission for Two every day*, Two invitations to annual membership party.  ($182 is tax deductible)

R. Land Art: Personally, I like to buy art for my guy. It’s something special and no home is complete without it. R. Land is ARTlanta’s favorite son. He will not steer you wrong. BUNNY FOO FOO is a classic, but it’s hard to beat AHA SPECKLES (<—– My not so subtle hint).




PIGMATA: One of my local heroes, Jim Stacy, brings us more salty goodness. For foodies he’s best known for serving up corndogs through Pallookaville and PBS’s GET DELICIOUS, but now there’s PIGMATA. Artisan meats, cured and smoked, homemade Brunswick Stew, fresh Half Sour Pickles, Corndog Casseroles, and whatever his fabulously fiendish mind dreams up next. Are you hungry yet?  Like it on Facebook to see updated specials or email Jim (laffo@pallookaville.com) for goods available right now.



Photo credit: Jennifer Belgard.

The Beer Growler: I know, I know.  I’ve already written about them, but their growlers are a seriously great gift (especially paired with anything from PIGMATA). Some Valentine’s-inspired options include:  Original Sin’s Hard Cider (dry traditional cider made with two types of champagne yeast), Ommengang’s Aphrodite (Aphrodite has champagne-like carbonation. Plus enchanting flavors with whispers of raspberry and pear, and hints of funk and tartness created by the Brett yeast. Grains of paradise are infused into the nectar, and when poured Aphrodite is crowned with a luxuriously shimmering rose-pink head), or Southern Tier’s Choklat (Belgian bittersweet chocolate is combined with dark malts to make this rich chocolate stout).  Your sweetie a teetotaler? No worries. They also carry Abita Root Beer (Sweetened w/ pure Louisiana cane sugar, the resulting taste is reminiscent of soft drinks made in the 1940s and 1950s, before bottlers turned to corn sugar and fructose. Caffeine-free). So good!


Chocolate F/X: It wouldn’t be right to skip the chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Atlanta RollerGirl Demi Gore whips up these badass confections named Best Local Chocolate in the AJC’s Best of the A 2011. There’s TAKEN (Be a Prisoner of Love with this heart-locket chocolate with the word “Taken” scrolled across the front. Packaged with 12 assorted truffles); FROM ANOTHER GALAXY for the STAR WARS lover (Includes one white chocolate with chile-spiced praline pecans Storm Trooper; one milk chocolate, peanut butter and pink Himalyan sea salt Yoda; and one dark chocolate with dried cherries and chipotle peppers Boba Fett in a gift box. Totally out of this world!), and, of course, YOU’RE THE S#!T! (Molded chocolate pile o’ poo comes with writing on it in a nifty red keepsake box. A fun, loving gesture for that special someone in your life!).

See?  That wasn’t so bad.  If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get some (tee hee). Happy Valentine’s Day!

Category: Shop Around | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ATLRetro Holiday Gift Guide #3: A Holiday Inn-dependent Spotlight on Avondale Estates

Posted on: Dec 19th, 2011 By:

By Jennifer Belgard
Contributing Writer

The holidays are almost upon us.  Frost is finally on the ground.  Some of us are still scurrying to find gifts.  Don’t fret, pets!  The shops of Avondale Estates can help.  I recently spent the day there with three talented ladies from Blast Off Burlesque: Astrid, Barb and Sadie, their righthand-man Coleman, and my good friend Lori from Third Half Studios.

We met at Avondale Pizza Cafe to strategize our day, have a HUGE slice, and enjoy a Wild Heaven Craft Beer.  The Georgia-based craft beer company plans to have its own brewery in Avondale by 2013, but you can currently find them at the Beer Growler, along with many others.  A whiskey gal myself, I don’t really drink beer, but this place may convert me. I’m a sucker for good marketing and these craft beers have my number.  Southern Tier Brewery (my old stomping grounds in Western New York) has a Krampus Lager and a Creme Brulee Imperial Milk Stout.  Each with their own distinct personality and perfect for a couple characters on my list.  Prices start around $16.99 a growler.  Grab a Beer Growler Koozie while you’re at it.  The koozie has a strap for easy portability.  Great idea and design, $16.99.


What do you need to go with all this malty goodness?  Artisan meats, of course!  Pine Street Market is where you’ll find it. We were treated to samples of their drool-inducing Coppa, a dry cured pork shoulder spiced with black pepper and chiles. Alongside their more traditional meats you’ll find specials like Spiced Pear Sausage (Applejack Brandy, nutmeg, ginger, and pear; fall and winter only), Roasted Poblano Sausage (roasted poblano peppers, ancho chiles, garlic, and cumin; spring and summer only) and the Applewood Bacon Burger (applewood smoked bacon ground with fresh pork for the ultimate rich, smoky burger).  Can’t decide what to get the meat lover in your life?  Buy them the Meat of the Month Club, $40.00 per month.  Each month includes a pound of Applewood Smoked Bacon and a featured salami or sausage.  They also carry condiments and specialty items.  A special someone in my life enjoys Bloody Marys, so I picked up a couple jars of pickled okra and green beans from Phickles, an Athens-based gourmet pickle company.


At this point we’d had about all the food and drink we could handle (or so we thought), and we headed to Second Life. This organization is wonderful and one of my new favorites. Second Life is a nonprofit, thrift store that donates proceeds to animal rescues.  Barb found a brand new BCBG dress for just $14.00.  Vintage ornaments starting at $1.00.  If I had the space, I would have a collection of creepy dolls (much to my boyfriend’s chagrin) and this is a great spot to find them!  They also hold in-store adoptions once a month featuring other nonprofits like Royal Potcake Rescue USA, Inc.  Their goal is to save homeless pets from Atlanta, Georgia and Abaco, Bahamas.  We lucked out and met a few of their sweet pups on our visit. I am in no way advocating buying someone a pet for the holidays, but if you’re searching for a furry friend of your own, check them out.




Our last stop was Sweet-n-Sinful Bakery.  Layne Lee is the sweet and sassy brainchild behind this boutique bakery. Sweet-n-Sinful boasts 24 cake flavors from Vanilla to Green Tea, 30 cake fillings like Fresh Strawberries, Black Forest and Lemon Curd, and 14 different frosting options, including 11 different types of Butter Cream.  Her brownies are so good that Whole Foods has picked them up for two of their Georgia stores and hope to take them nationwide.  Layne’s cupcakes are available in yummy seasonal flavors like Chocolate Peppermint,  Pumpkin and French Toast.  Need something for Christmas morning?  Take along some fresh bread or over-sized muffin tops.  Shipping & delivery is also available.  Whatever you choose is sure to please!

I’m off to wrap this haul of goodies!  Hopefully our trying day of shopping, eating, and drinking will help you complete your holiday shopping while helping our independently-owned businesses.  Shop local.  Happy Holidays!

Jennifer Belgard is Co-Conspirator at Libertine, Curator of Curios at Diamond*Star*Halo,  Barkeep at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, and Co-Coordinator of Chaos for the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade & Festival.  In her spare time she enjoys Turnin’ TriXXX and playing Queen of Your Distraction.

Category: Shop Around | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2024 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress