Movies: Mammoth **
(15A, limited release)
Lukas Moodysson's Mammoth could not be accused of lacking ambition. Over a stately two-and-a-bit-hours it addresses the downside of working mothers, the modern obsession with prosperity, prostitution, exploitation and the ill effects of globalisation.
Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal star as Ellen and Leo, a well-to-do young married couple who live in some style in a cosy Manhattan loft. He is a computer game designer, she's an ER surgeon at a hospital, and both are obsessed with their work.
Which is bad news for their rather mournful eight-year-old daughter, Jackie. As Ellen works all God's hours and Leo is finalising a huge deal with a company in Asia, the couple have hired a live-in Filipino nanny called Gloria.
Calm and competent, Gloria has formed a bond with Jackie that sometimes troubles Ellen, even though she has no right to be resentful. But Gloria has problems of her own: she left her two young sons in the care of her mother in order to come to America and earn enough to give them a better life. But the boys place plaintive phone calls that make Gloria wonder if her sacrifice is worth it.
When Leo goes to Thailand to finalise his big deal, an interconnected family crisis brews. While Ellen becomes obsessed with the fate of a little boy who's been admitted after being stabbed by his mother, Jackie is left entirely in the care of Gloria.
But when Gloria receives unsettling news from home, she faces a dilemma. And, in Thailand, Leo enters dangerous territory when he attempts to help a local prostitute.
Moodysson's targets in his handsome but turgid and often sloppily written drama are not always clear. He appears to take exception with the western-led obsession with material wealth and the staggering iniquities between standards of living in the first and third worlds, but this is hardly revolutionary stuff. More troublingly, he seems to suggest that working women are bad mothers, an implication that has landed him in hot water in his native Sweden.
Personally, I don't much care what he was suggesting as long as the resulting film provokes and entertains. Mammoth doesn't do very much of either, and even the dependably brilliant Williams struggles to do much with an underwritten and contradictory role. And for all its high-minded bluster, Mammoth is a lot less substantial than it initially seems.