Last night at the 92Y Tribeca, Isabella Rossellini previewed one of her nine short films entitled “Mammas,” a contemplation of motherhood that pivots towards the animal kingdom. But by juxtaposing animal behavior with that of human mothers, Isabella meditates on many of the complex threads of motherhood. Specifically, the complex and loaded terrain of “maternal instinct.”
In keeping with the prominent themes of “Green Porno,” Isabella dons various costumes of cuckoos, fish, toads, spiders, and other animals as she narrates the maternal practices of “mammas.” Isabella, who writes and directs the work, embodies a hamster who eats two of her young after a strenuous birth (the little babies of which were actually made of marzipan, according to Isabella). A mother spider explains how once her babies escape their sack, they will consume her — which she is resigned to. A bird tells the audience that she actually will take many “husbands” — polyandry — specifically so that they can all provide for her young.
The human equivalent is spliced between the scenes, offering a culturally salient counterpoint: a mother with with her two husbands on a park bench, smirking at a monogamous couple — “for the very wealthy,” she says. A devoted martyr mom gives a pained smile with her four children before her, one crawling over her back and nibbling on her neck. The human mother who we can assume ate her own children is behind bars, lamenting “if I was a hamster.”
The critiques are slightly biting in their comedic poking, but the inspiration behind “Mammas” comes from a much more innocent place: Isabella’s own childhood. Isabella says that in her days before modeling and acting, she originally wanted to make films about the behavior of animals. She alludes to Hollywood’s profound lack of visibility of older women when admitting that she has a lot of time for her own projects now that she’s 60. She has since gone back to school to revisit and study her love of animals (her professor laughed heartily in the audience). Isabella found herself particularly taken by the research of female biologists who questioned the concept of maternal instinct, inspiring “Mammas.”
“There is something about animals that I find very comical,” Isabella says, adding that so many animal documentaries are very serious in tone. “I really want my audience to laugh…Laugh first, then surprise.”
When asked if her two children have seen her humorous study of motherhood, she shrugs.
“Children are not very interested in their parents’ work.”
“Mammas” will debut on the Sundance Channel on Mother’s Day, May 12th