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Review: The Taste of Mango


- Sri Lankan-British filmmaker Chloe Abrahams enchants with a touching, deeply personal debut, in which she acts as the glue between women from two generations

Review: The Taste of Mango

It’s not a new thing for artist and filmmaker Chloe Abrahams to turn the camera onto herself and her own family in order to explore the underlying tensions in being a compassionate sibling, daughter or granddaughter. In her debut feature-length documentary, The Taste of Mango, Abrahams, who is Sri Lankan-British, acts as the glue between women from two generations – her mother, Rozana, and her grandmother, Jean – and between the two countries. Her tool: the camera. The Taste of Mango recently competed for the Grierson Award in the BFI London Film Festival’s Documentary Competition.

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At the beginning of the doc, a face emerges from an all-white screen – instead of an all-black one – framed as a silhouette amidst blinding light. Strands of hair and eyes locked in close-ups by a wandering video camera are illuminated and overexposed: the sun shines somewhere behind Rozana while the director addresses her as a narrator speaking over the raw images. A sincerity brightens up and beautifies the screen when the camcorder zooms in too close to a face; similarly, waves of tenderness wash over the pixelated image and embrace its low-grade quality. Unstable but homey, the image carries the weight of inarticulate familial love.

The Taste of Mango explores the salvatory potential of a confessional tone. It becomes a repository for three generations’ worth of female trauma solely because all three of them talk to the camera about it, perhaps in ways that they wouldn't be able to if the camera were absent. In addition, there’s Chloe’s voiceover, which is nothing like the omniscient narrator one usually encounters in documentaries, but is more akin to a letter to her mother. The whole film is shaped into this quasi-epistolary form and addressed to Rozana: she is at once the receiver and the object.

Clocking in at only 75 minutes, Abrahams’ debut utilises the sensorial potential of memories – whether read aloud or scribbled down on paper – through visuals and sound, unlocking the treasure trove of the past, while all of this is bound up in unspoken trauma. The traumatic events that are mentioned involve male figures who are not shown at all in the film, and therefore, their omission is already a reparative gesture in its own right. The Taste of Mango focuses on these three generations of women and their shared, intimate spaces – bedrooms, living rooms, gardens – places usually deemed “feminine”, where an outpouring of feelings is possible. In these circumstances, and aided by the familiarity of the camcorder footage, the film becomes a testament to sensory filmmaking, where the act of looking evokes smell and taste. Nostalgia is not simply a retreat into the past; rather, it is a tool for digging up what’s gone unsaid to the people who are closest to us.

Without judging or granting absolution, Abrahams is ready to expose the flaws in her own family’s dynamics as well as celebrating the love that binds them. The opposing pull of these two elements makes the story more universal in the ways it tackles domestic violence, immigration and repression.

The Taste of Mango is a UK-US production staged by Cardamom Films and Fit Via Vi.

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