Isabella Rossellini’s search for the meaning of maternal instinct in “Mammas” looks at nine animals where things like polygamy, lying and dying convince her that “anything goes.”
The program timed to air Mother’s Day on the Sundance Channel is just the latest offbeat offering from the model-actress, who gets in costumes and plays the parts of the animals.
In “Mammas,” Rossellini dresses as a mother spider, wasp, hamster, toad, cuckoo, dunnock, oil beetle, piping plover and cichlid fish to show how each brings her young into the world. The shorts also launch on sundancechannel.com on Mother’s Day.
“Mammas” is suggestive, but the episodes are mostly for comedy and entertainment, Rossellini said. They are also food for thought, the 60-year-old New Yorker believes.
Several women biologists, challenging popular thinking about maternal instinct, recently studied how animals behave, Rossellini said. Many people believe all mothers are altruistic, nurturing, protective and unselfish but they are not, she said.
“Some mothers eat their babies if there are too many in a litter, other mothers abandon their babies into other birds’ nests for mothers who are not even of the same species to raise; mothers do not get pregnant always with the belly, but sometimes hold the babies in their mouth, they are cheek pregnant or back pregnant,” she said.
“This is what I am telling in the films. I’m saying that conventional idea we have that mothers are ready to sacrifice themselves has been proven incorrect.”
Rossellini is enrolled at Hunter College in New York, working toward a master’s degree in animal behavior. “I have been interested in animals since I was a child,” she said.
“Mammas” didn’t start out as a Mother’s Day project, Rossellini said. It was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in February.