Tag Archives: mothers and daughters

Familia (2005)

The Canadian film Familia from director Louise Archambault appears to begin its focus with divorced, single parent Michèle (Sylvie Moreau). A brief glimpse of Michèle’s gambling addiction and a short encounter with her current steroid-selling boyfriend/boss, Scott (Claude Despins) illustrate a life of failure, irresponsibility and flux. Unfortunately, Michèle’s bad decisions pour down on to her 14-year-old daughter, Marguerite (Mylène St-Saveur). A confrontation between Michèle and her latest boyfriend results in yet another midnight flit with Michèle and Marguerite’s few belongings stuffed into the car, and what doesn’t fit in the car is tied onto the roof.

Time to hit the road… Michèle, a part-time aerobics instructor, would really like to start afresh in California, but she needs money to fund this make-over. Off to mum’s to plead for cash, but Madeleine (Micheline Lanctôt) doesn’t have any to spare and seems fairly oblivious to Michèle’s dilemma. No matter, Madeleine’s much younger husband, (Jacques L’Heureux) lusts after Michèle, and he’s perfectly happy to offer some cash in exchange for a grope.

Michèle doesn’t make it to California and ends up on the doorstep of childhood friend Janine (Macha Grenon), and here’s where the family dynamics begin to get complicated. Janine is the sister of Marguerite’s father who was married to someone else when he impregnated Michèle. The complicated layers of deceit, self-deceit, and irresponsibility peel back as various family members appear on the scene, and the film raise the old nature vs nature question through its portrayals of three-generations of troubled characters.

As the film plays out, its focus shifts to Janine, nicknamed Hitler by her 13-year-old daughter Gabrielle (Juliette Gosselin),  Janine, a successful interior decorator runs a tight ship at her immaculate home and naturally and foreseeably, Michèle’s presence and influence wreaks havoc in Janine’s formerly orderly home. Unfortunately, Janine has too many distractions to see it coming. With her husband Charles (Vincent Graton) largely absent, Janine has good reasons to suspect him of infidelity.

When the multiple crises erupt, the film takes a step back from Michèle’s disastrous choices and Janine’s painful suspicions and takes a look at the larger family picture here. Janine’s mother, Estelle (Patricia Nolin), is a cold fish who believes that all problems can be successfully avoided through shopping while Michèle’s mother desperately tries to stay younger in order to keep her repulsive husband interested. By stepping back and taking a look at this older generation, Michèle and Janine begin to make a lot more sense–and by that I don’t mean that they were inconsistent characters, but rather their backgrounds explain their adult choices. 

And since the film takes a look at the older generation, it’s balanced by taking a look at the choices made by Gabrielle and Marguerite. Once again, these two young girls are very much influenced by their mothers, and in one poignant scene Michèle, who manages to largely ignore her daughter, asks Marguerite what she wants out of life. Marguerite replies that it’s very simple–she wants to not be like her mother. 

On the down side, the film comes dangerously close to condemning the entire male species–with the sole exception of Marguerite’s grandfather who seems the most stable of the bunch. However, that complaint aside, ultimately Familia, a highly entertaining film offers believable flawed characters caught in various economic and social dilemmas for which there are no easy answers, and we see generations of women paying for the mistakes and the irresponsibility of their parents. By the time, the film concludes, we see the characters overcoming patterns of behaviour, and one scene which includes Janine and her ever-disappearing husband has to be one of the best melt-down scenes ever made.

Familia, a Canadian film, is mostly in French, and it’s an entry into Caroline and Richard’s world cinema series 


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Satin Rouge (2002)


satin-rougeIn the film Satin Rouge widow Lilia (Hiyam Abbas) lives with her only daughter, Salma (Hend El Fahem) in a small apartment. Lilia does a little seamstress work, but most of her day is spent cleaning, watching mindless television programmes, and waiting for her daughter to come home. Salma attends classes, and she rebels against her mother’s affections and expectations by trying to establish a social life away from home. Salma is increasingly more distant, and offering more and more excuses for her unexplained absences. Lilia tracks down the cause of her daughte’s distraction and learns that Salma is seeing a musician, Chokri (Maher Kamoun). Lilia follows Chokri one day, and she’s led to a nightclub. She wanders inside and slips into the seductive world of belly dancing.

Fans of belly dancing should love this film. It’s filled with scene after colourful scene of the evenings spent in the club. These scenes are juxtaposed by the grey sterility of Lilia’s other life–the interfering, nosy neighbours, and a brother who keeps a watchful, condemning eye on Lilia. People in Lilia’s life seem to be troubled that she’s a woman without a man to look after her, to guide her, and to keep her in line, so they feel extremely comfortable intruding, offering comments and judgments that pass as helpful advice. In contrast, Lilia’s life as a cabaret belly dancer is free from such restraints. In the club, she is a powerful, desirable woman coveted by the male audience. She can rev them up to fever pitch, but she always remains in control.

The film emphasizes the sisterhood of the women in the nightclub. Lilia receives encouragement from these bold women–especially from the glittering, self-possessed, Folla (Monia Hichri). These dancers are not the sort to stay at home and accept the roles meted out to them, and Lilia learns some invaluable lessons in survival techniques from her fellow dancers. Ultimately, Lilia’s game is a complicated one, and the film’s message resonates long after the final credits roll. Satin Rouge is a Tunisian film from female director, Raja Amari. The film is in French and Arabic with English subtitles.

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I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1993)

 “Happiness is an undeniable condition.”

In Marie Luisa Bemberg’s film, I Don’t Want to Talk About It, by the time Carlotta is two years old, it’s obvious that she’s different. Her mother, well-to-do widow, Dona Leonor, refuses to discuss Carlotta’s dwarfism with anyone, and she even goes as far as destroying any dwarf figurines and burning any copies of Snow White she can find. Dona Leonor’s fierce protectiveness is only a form of denial, for in reality, Dona Leonor is ashamed of her daughter. Dona Leonor’s attempts to cover Carlotta’s dwarfism are especially transparent in social situations. Carlotta is raised with love and privilege in the small Argentinean town of San Jose de Los Altares during the 1930s. It’s a town full of gossips and organized social events. No one mentions Carlotta’s dwarfism, and she matures into an educated, accomplished young woman.

And then dapper bachelor and ladies’ man, Ludovico d’Andrea (Marcello Mastroianni) arrives in town. There’s an air of mystery about Ludovico, and he manages to combine charm and sophistication with a sort of sad grace. His daily visits to Dona Leonor’s shop seem to hint at an attraction to the handsome widow, but Ludovico is in love with Carlotta. We are told: “Love is strange. It only comes rarely, and even rarer are those it chooses.”

I Don’t Want to Talk About It isn’t a love story by any means–even though a romance unfolds. Bemberg’s story is far too sophisticated to be a mere love story. The key to the film’s core is found in the narrator’s final descriptions. We rely on the narrator to conclude the film for us, and to subtly add meaning with the final few sentences. Fundamentally, the film’s message is that courage is required to be oneself–especially if the elements of ‘difference’, unattractiveness, or unpopularity are present. Carlotta is very comfortable in her petite body, for example. It must occur to her that she’s different–but she never questions her mother because to Carlotta it simply doesn’t matter. Denying truths about oneself is a form of spiritual suicide. This is something that the shop boy, Mojamme must learn. Carlotta is never guilty of that. In fact, she embraces her dwarfism and turns her state into a celebration. There’s a mystical fairy tale quality to the film–and this is enhanced by the cinematographer’s use of lighting. There’s the blue light over the streets at dusk, and scenes with the sunlight and sunset on the sea–this is a beautiful, haunting, delightful and subtle film. Bemberg is one of my favourite directors, and I recommend all her films. Sadly too few are available.

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Germany, Pale Mother (1980)

 “During the war, I always thought about afterwards.”

germany-pale-motherGermany, Pale Mother  (Deutschland Bleiche Mutter) is the fictionalized story of director Helma Sanders-Brahms’ parents set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Rife with symbolism, the film explores the tragic destruction of a young German couple who meet and marry on the brink of WWII. When Hans (Ernst Jacobi) and Lene (Eva Mattes) first meet in 1939, they do not belong to the growing Nazi party–a point they establish with each another almost immediately. They fall in love and marry, but shortly after the wedding, Hans is drafted into the German army. At first, he’s shipped to Poland, later to France, and the Eastern Front. Ordered to murder civilians, and then made the object of ridicule when he expresses disgust, Hans becomes irrevocably altered by events. Meanwhile, Lene gives birth to daughter, Hanne. Throughout the war, even when forced to lead a vagabond existence, Lene never loses her determination to survive, and she tries to insulate her daughter from the horrors they experience.

Germany, Pale Mother  is an exquisite film with voice-over narration by Hanne (now an adult). By concentrating on the simple story of the fate of one family, the director explores the tragedy of the average person who became swept along by Nazi madness. While Hans and Lene were not Nazis, and did not particularly agree with the country’s policies, they blindly accepted what was required of them and suffered the consequences. In contrast to Hans, is his friend, Ulrich (Rainer Friedrichsen)–a man who joins the Nazi Party and spouts the party line while simultaneously realizing that joining the party is a smart career move. The film hints that even Ulrich’s marriage is a political choice, and even though Hans and Lene have little time for politics, nonetheless, their lives are shaped by the political decisions of others.

Hanne addresses the question of whether or not her parents should be blamed for their actions by focusing in on some particularly painful and shameful moments. At several points in the story, Lene is faced with the ‘disappearance’ of Jews, but she doesn’t question this or even appear curious. At one point, she needs thread from a Jewish haberdashery shop, but the shop is closed and its owners dragged off by the Nazis. While Lene digs through the rubble inside the shop to find a certain colour thread, she’s totally unconcerned about the shopkeepers whose vandalized shop bears testament to their brutal fate. Is Lene’s non-rejection of Nazi ideals passivity or simply lack of interest?

As WWII continues, Lene’s harrowing experiences in Nazi Germany become almost surreal–even the birth of her child is punctuated with cries of “Heil Hitler” and sequences of bombing raids, and one Christmas Eve, Lene is huddled around the radio listening to German troops singing Silent Night right before an air raid begins. Powerful archival footage stands as a testament to the destruction of the German infrastructure. Rather than presenting Germany as ‘the Fatherland’, Germany, Pale Mother  is created around the strong matriarchal role of Lene. Hans–apart from being an absent father for the first few years of Hanne’s life–is seen to ruin the bond between mother and child when he returns. Germany, Pale Mother is a perfect example of Frauenfilm (German Women’s Cinema) with its emphasis on German history as female. The film is clearly a labour of love for Sanders-Brahms and an attempt to understand her parents’ position during WWII. Both Hans and Lene are treated sympathetically as individuals swept along by the currents of fanaticism, and while they both possess the drive to survive, survival comes at a terrible cost. In German with English subtitles.

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Mommie Dearest (1981)

 “This was before Prozac.”

mommieBased on the best seller by Christina Crawford, the film version of Mommie Dearest casts Faye Dunaway as the neurotic, deeply troubled Joan Crawford. The film doesn’t cover much of Joan’s career, but instead follows the book’s premise, showing life through the eyes of Joan’s adopted daughter, Christine.

The film includes some excellent scenes of the children being trouped out for official (and completely fake) photographs. In real life, Joan actually adopted four children, but only two appear in the film. Faye Dunaway is incredible in this role, and at times I had to remind myself that this was Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford, and not the ‘real’ thing. Could anyone have possibly played a better Joan Crawford? I doubt it. This is great fun for fans of Joan (it’s almost as good as watching one of her wonderful films), and those who love Camp won’t be disappointed either. Joan, who always portrayed tough, indestructible women, is shown here in a way the cameras didn’t get to see–the obsessive cleaner, the consummate perfectionist, the “control freak” and the dreadful mother. This is hardly a flattering portrait of Joan Crawford, but somehow I don’t think Crawford fans have too much of a problem seeing her this way. I didn’t particularly enjoy the book Mommie Dearest for many reasons, but I did enjoy the film.

This Special Collector’s Edition is worth every penny. Watch Mommie Dearest all the way through and then watch it with the witty and wise commentary by John Waters. Since John Waters is my guru on many matters, I also wanted to get his interpretation of events. His analysis of both the film–and the relationship between Christine and Joan–were perfect. It’s interesting to see which scenes and which lines he considers ‘over the top’ (keep in mind that this is coming from the director of Pink Flamingos). He has plenty of comments to make about Faye Dunaway’s outfits, her eyebrows and those infamous wire hangers. He argues that the part of Joan Crawford was the “first drag queen role played by a woman.” He points out that many things Christina suffered through were “normal” events for the times, but at the same time, he states that Joan should never have considered motherhood. He argues that Joan Crawford gave Christine “more than most mothers and made her pay for it more than most mothers.”

DVD extras include “Life with Joan”, “The Revival of Joan” and “Joan Lives on”, a photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer.

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Mad Youth (1940)

“Aren’t you a little bit ashamed to sell yourself to women?”

According to the tawdry morality tale Mad Youth there’s a direct connection between the delinquency of parents and the delinquency of their children. In this over-the top melodrama, there’s no cliche spared as a delinquent mother and precocious daughter are pitted against one another as rivals for the same European gigolo. If you appreciate Trash Cinema, then chances are you’ll enjoy the questionable merits of Mad Youth.

In this sordid tale, middle aged, divorced and lonely Marian Morgan (Mary Ainslee) spends all of her alimony money on gigolos she employs as her escorts. She likes them young–in their late twenties–and if they claim to be European nobility, that’s even better. One evening, her latest gigolo, Count DeHoven (Willy Castello) meets Marian’s nubile young daughter, Lucy (Betty Compson), and there’s an instant attraction. Soon mother and daughter are squabbling over the same stud. And it doesn’t take long before the claws are out, and the fur flies as both women exchange nasty comments.

Don’t approach this film expecting serious cinema–Mad Youth is Trash Cinema with a High Camp Factor, spotty acting, and bad lines loaded with double entendre. There’s a lot packed into this relatively short film–a wild teenage party complete with some great jitterbug sequences, flamenco dancing, and even a game of strip poker. And one of the best features of this film is that it doesn’t bother with subtleties. Marian Morgan, for example, one of the escort agency’s “best customers” is forthright with the statement that she likes her men “around 27 or 28” because that’s “right around” her own age. A great deal of the dialogue is preposterous and stagy–with lines such as “You ought to realize, mother, that you’re no longer attractive to young men” “I’m saving you for a very special customer” and my personal favourite–“Don’t you realize, some of their customers are criminals, morons, or people who are mentally or physically diseased.” Directed by Melville Shyer, this Alpha DVD print is acceptable. Look for a pair of split trousers during a fight sequence towards the end of the film.

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