‘Mammoth’ movie review: a return to form for director Lukas Moodysson

Lukas Moodysson, the talented Swedish director behind Fucking Åmål, Together, and Lilya 4-Ever, seemed to have lost his luster upon the release of A Hole in My Heart in 2004, an explicit amateur porn-focused fiasco which was widely panned and little-seen outside of the festival circuit.

Five years later, I wish I could say his latest, Mammoth, was a return to form. It isn’t quite that – it’s not as good as his earlier films, and has a newfound preachy vibe that feels like it was lifted from Crash – but it’s a return to acceptable filmmaking for Moodysson, and good enough in its own right to warrant a recommendation. Here’s hoping for better things in the near future.

Mammoth stars Gael García Bernal as Leo Vidales, New Yorker founder of a successful video game website, the “MySpace for the gaming community.” He’s off to Thailand to sign a major contract, which he, apparently, couldn’t be less interested in doing. On the way, his business partner (Thomas McCarthy) gives him a pen decorated with ivory from the tusks of a mammoth.

He leaves behind his wife Ellen (Michelle Williams), an emergency room surgeon who works nights and tries to save a young boy stabbed multiple times by his mother. 

Leo and Ellen’s daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) is raised by Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito). Over in the Philippines, Gloria has two sons who live with a grandmother and an uncle, supported by the money Gloria sends back from the US.

There are some really lovely moments in Mammoth, including some touching moments between Leo and a Thai prostitute (Run Srinikornchot), and a scene in which the Filipino grandmother takes her grandson, who misses his mother, to a community of people scrounging off the local garbage dump. “Your mother is working in America so you don’t have to do this.”

There are also some surprisingly poor choices, like the stereotypical American child molester who shows up in the Philippines just in time for a convoluted story thread to drive its point across in excessive and unnecessary fashion.

And by the end, the point of it all gets muddled as Moodysson sympathizes with all our characters but decries the injustices in the world we live in. What he’s doing here essentially come across as a guilt trip, but there’s just enough ambiguity surrounding it to soften the blow.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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