A lonely young woman becomes a live-in caregiver for an ailing but indomitable matriarch and her brood of kids, in this joyful and wonderfully naturalistic comedy-drama.



The Amazing Catfish

Claudia Sainte-Luce

Claudia (Ximena Ayala), a product demonstrator in her twenties, meets ailing matriarch Martha (Lisa Owen) in a hospital room after Claudia is admitted for appendicitis. The women bond over a bag of potato chips passed between their beds. Martha has four kids from three different fathers; Claudia has been on her own her entire life. When Martha spots Claudia walking home alone after surgery, she offers her a lift in her crowded old yellow Beetle. Claudia accepts, after some hesitation — perhaps she sensed that getting into that car was going to change her life.

Some families we're born into; some we build. And some families simply come to us, unannounced, when we least expect it. The story of The Amazing Catfish falls into that last category. Set in Guadalajara, Mexico, this debut feature from writer-director Claudia Sainte-Luce is a sweet comedy that explores generosity and responsibility. Without anyone ever making a big deal of it, Claudia is quickly integrated into Martha's quirky, bustling home, where along with camaraderie and regular meals come unexpected duties. Martha is HIV-positive and slowly dying — the painful process exacerbated by the extreme expense of, and, due to layers of bureaucracy, the difficulty in accessing medical treatments. Claudia can lend a hand, not only with Martha's daily needs, but by caring for the children — acknowledging Wendy's self-destructive habits or Mariana's anxieties, or answering little Armando's questions about how to execute various types of kisses.

None of this feels forced. These moments emerge naturally, nestled between countless moments of inspired comedy, and the camerawork by Claire Denis' cinematographer Agnès Godard is as immaculately naturalistic as the performances. Inevitably, there is some sadness in The Amazing Catfish, but the feeling we're left with is one of abundant joy — and messy, beautiful togetherness.



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