Inspired by the life of Diane Arbus this is the tale of Anna (Katie Boland) trying to find out who her mother Helene (Maria del Mar) really is. Despite them living together most of the time Anna is aware that her mother is keeping her at arm’s length. We start to realise that Helene the photographer is very different from Helene the mother that Anna so desperately wants to get closer to. Anna constantly has to parent Helene, a dynamic which puts them both under strain; when Helene has had enough she goes in search of her other life, a place where Anna tries to follow her.
Writer/director Gail Harvey started her career as a photographer and Katie Boland is her daughter; this makes for a very intimate and personal feel to the film. The use of non-actors, a colourful cast of supporting characters and people playing themselves adds to the naturalism. Linda Hamilton’s appearance leads to the memorable line; “Jesus mom you insulted Sarah Connor!’
Anna’s detective work regarding her mother starts with looking through Helene’s private photos; the photos represent not only reality and truth but also Helene’s fantasies and lies. Helene seems only able to relate to her daughter through a camera lens, further removing herself from the object of her gaze.
The composition, locations and use of black and white give the film a starkness and winter beauty. The indie ethos does not detract from the story and the relationships, it enhances it, making the bohemian lifestyles of Helene and her friends that little bit more underground.
The film throws up some pertinent questions not least the ‘classic’ dilemma for a working mother about having it all. Can a woman be a good mother and have a successful career at the same time? But also the question of who is your mother, who are our parents as people, as masters of their own lives, as characters with their own agency? Can we ever really know them?
This is a hauntingly beautiful, bittersweet tale.