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Review: Barbara adesso


- Swiss director Alessandra Gavin-Müller presents her latest feature film, an unexpected portrait of a free and nonconformist woman

Review: Barbara adesso
Cristina Zamboni in Barbara adesso

After Where is Sara Gomez? (2005) – a film tribute to a great filmmaker who lived an uncompromising life – the Swiss director Alessandra Gavin-Müller offers us yet another powerful portrait of a woman. Her new feature film Barbara adesso [+see also:
film profile
, presented at Solothurn Film Festival in the Swiss Panorama section, focuses on a woman who has decided to take her life into her own hands, with courage and determination.

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Barbara, a woman of about forty, abandons her husband and daughter, disappearing without a trace. Her decision, apparently radical, comes from a sudden realisation: Giuliano, her husband, seems more adept to raise their daughter. 

Barbara decides to voluntarily exclude herself from a family that has basically never listened to what she wants. Alessandra Gavin-Müller's latest film deals with a subject that is too often taboo: that of unwanted motherhood, of a refusal to set one's own life aside for a role, that of motherhood, which the protagonist views as an inescapable prison.

What does it mean to be a mother? One of the pillars of society is based on what we commonly call "maternal instinct." But what if this concept were only an illusion, a reassuring social construction that basically has no reason to exist? In our collective imagination, women seem to be genetically predisposed to become mothers, but the reality is altogether different, more complex and subtle. Barbara adesso allows us to look at motherhood differently, no longer as a simple and natural stage of life but as a destabilising moment that can sometimes prove unsustainable. 

The director does not try to explain, or worse, justify Barbara's decision. Instead, she shows the character for who she is, free from any false moralism or sentimentalism. Barbara is strong, complex and mysterious, a character who is light years away from the stereotypes that too often depict women as delicate porcelain dolls. It doesn’t really matter where her rejection comes from, what counts is the determination with which she accepts and embraces her decision. 

Barbara's face (played by an intense Cristina Zamboni) is impassive, as if nothing could scratch the surface. Her emotions seem frozen in her being, jealously guarded and protected from the gaze and judgments of those around her. The only time they bubble to the surface is when she confronts her own mother who, in turn, abandoned her. Barbara adesso offers a complex portrait of a woman who refuses to bow down to her destiny, instead choosing to invent one of her own.

Barbara adesso was produced by the Ticino-based Amka Films and Radiotelevisione Svizzera RSI.  

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(Translated from Italian)

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