Materna Review – A Gritty, Razor-Sharp, Indictment of Metropolitan Life

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Materna, from Utopia and Vortex Media, presents four unique stories pulled from lives in Manhattan, and its mosaic of tradition, innovation, hopefulness, and challenges as four women, unconnected, meet on the subway when a stranger pulls a gun.

The film begins in Manhattan’s underground maze of transportation, where anything goes, miles of track that move millions every day in and around the city that never sleeps.

Tonight, as we see, an angry white man is venting, the usual ranting that is common on the subway, where straphangers can see just about everything from single aggressive panhandlers to those who offer a bit of entertainment between stops to the violent, rages of the mentally unstable.


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As the females who seem to be the object of his discourse are plugged into their own worlds, the man, continues to talk, loudly, to himself or whomever is within hearing distance, as the film fades into the life of our first stranger, Jean, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, a motion capture animation executive.

Her vignette is filled with the the angst of an unusual life. She simulates sex with motion capture, and re-watches her reactions. She lives in a loft, practices knife throwing, has frequent phone calls with her mother, who explains her lifestyle is not normal, working from home, you should be out, have your eggs frozen, time waits for no one. Our executive is essentially the connected disconnected modern worker.

Switching back to the subway we see a second female, Mona, played by Jade Eshete, who becomes the target of the man’s venting. She moves to another part of the train and sinks back into her own world. A television actress, her show has recently been cancelled and she is estranged from her mother, a nation of Islam follower uses withholding as a manipulation to pull her daughter back to her “chosen place” to the life her mother feels is best for her and to leave the nonsense of the entertainment world behind.


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Perizad, played by Assol Abdullina, is also on the train. Silently living in her own world, she recently returned to Manhattan from the Middle East, where between the war which destroyed their homeland and the internal war that destroyed their family, she, as a daughter is not enough to cover for the devastation of losing their son to suicide. The harsh words that fly like bullets between the daughter and mother are as damaging deep wounds, scares, that one hopes will heal over time, but the rawness of the recent trip make that day look distant and unattainable.

Our final vignette features Gabe, played by Rory Calkin and Ruth, played by Lindsay Burdge, a brother and sister who each pursuing a life the others believe is a falsehood. Neither have come to the place where they accept the other’s choices as they are, right, wrong, good, or bad.

Ruth and her husband, David, played by Michael Chernus and son, Jared played by Jake Katzman, live in a brownstone near 72nd and Central Park West, they have heated debates on race, sexual orientation, the change in the fabric of America which appears to leave some out while disproportionately offering others a bigger slice in a guilt driven reparation over actual or perceived crimes which those receiving the gifting's had no direct involvement.


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The heated debate causes a shocking reacting by Gabe who is ordered out of the home. Ruth decides to go to her brother’s home and jumps on the subway, which puts her right in the middle of the same debate as she becomes the target of the white man’s rage.

Materna Director David Gutnik seamlessly weaves the journeys of these four unconnected New York women who are isolated by city life, separated by class, politics, race, and religion, and yet bound by a shared desire for identity and connection into a moment in New York City lives, where the anonymous stranger become intrinsically connected to each other’s survival.

Materna is a Tribeca 2020 winner for both best actress in the U.S. Narrative competition for Assol Abdullina and a Tribeca 2020 winner for Best Cinematography in the U.S. narrative for Greta Zozula, Chananun Chotrungroj, Kelly Jeffrey.

A razor-sharp indictment of modern metropolitan life. Gritty, authentic, Materna is in theaters in New York and Los Angeles August 6, 2021, and is available on TVOD August 10, 2021.


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Country: USA.

Language: English.

Runtime: 105minutes.

Director: David Gutnik.

Writer: David Gutnik, Assol Abdullina, and Jade Eshete.

Producer: Emily McEvoy and Liz Cardenas.

Cast: Jade Eshete, Assol Abdullina, Kate Lyn Sheil, Lindsay Burdge, Michael Chernus, Rory Culkin, Cassandra Freeman, Sturgill Simpson, Kaili Vernoff, Jake Katzman, Kara Young, Zhamilya Sydykbaeva, Jamal Seidakmatova.

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