Review: I’ll Be Your Mirror
- The first feature film by Swiss artist and director Johanna Faust explores motherhood from an unprecedented viewpoint, displaying great honesty and courage
This year’s Zurich Film Festival and, more specifically, the section named “Focus on Switzerland, Germany and Austria”, has seen Johanna Faust present her first full-length film I’ll Be Your Mirror [+see also:
film profile], a psychoanalytical road movie in which the director retraces her family’s past in a bid to make sense of her present life. What does it mean to be a mother and an artist in a society which still urges women to conform? What are the consequences of deciding not to follow the rules?
Johanna would like to leave (at least for a time) her husband and children in order to pursue her artistic ambitions, but she’s racked with guilt. Having put any plans of her own to one side in order to raise her children, the director begins to labour under the weight of a now monotonous daily existence. When she learns that she’s been offered a place on an MA in Art at Oxford, her doubts begin to keep her up at night: what should she do? Accept the offer and leave the family home for a year, or resign herself to a life which has taken a rather different turn to the one she’d always imagined? Her past and the difficult decisions made by the women who’ve gone before her (her mother and grandmother in particular) all float to the surface, reminding her that she’s not the first to have been faced with such tortuous choices. The director’s own mother had herself been left by her mother, who chose to follow her artistic calling over her family. What are the consequences of such a radical decision? In pursuit of answers to her questions, Johanna sets out on a journey, with her husband and children in tow, which will take them from Switzerland all the way to the Mexican desert, by way of the US where her mother now lives.
I’ll Be Your Mirror depicts with courage and determination the life paths taken by three generations of women who have each, in their own way, had to contend with social conventions, their own desires and the demands of a role – that of a mother – which ultimately turns out to be far more complex than society would have us believe.
The journey embarked upon by the director is both real and imaginary, it’s a form of group therapy undertaken in order to find answers which might not even exist. Johanna Faust films the body of her mother as if she were looking to uncover its secrets. What she seeks, through the medium of film, is to go beyond the surface level of indifference which has become some sort of prison for her forebear. The absent look her mother often wears, her slow and laboured movements, lend her the air of a broken doll which can no longer be repaired - which no longer wants to be repaired. In one powerful scene, the mother, filmed in the desert as she consults her cell-phone, doesn’t react in the slightest when her grandson cries out after pricking himself on a cactus. The director’s mother carries on staring at her screen, undeterred, as if impermeable to the world around her.
The details of her past, unveiled sparingly throughout the film, help us to put together the pieces of an ever more complex and mysterious human puzzle; namely, the consequences of a childhood spent apart from your family.
“Could it be that the emptiness I feel inside of me is actually that of my mother, rather than my own?” or that “the anger she feels towards motherhood lives on inside of me?”. The director asks herself these questions, as if her mother’s life had had a direct impact on her own. Is it still possible for her to break this vicious circle? I’ll Be Your Mirror courageously raises questions on motherhood which are still mired in taboo and, in so doing, shatters the myth of any presumed, innate form of “maternal instinct”.
I’ll Be Your Mirror is produced and sold worldwide by Swiss group Soap Factory.
(Translated from Italian)
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