Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Mother and Child

Reviews - Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Reviewed By John Stakes

Mother and Child
Mother and Child
It is hardly surprising that, given time, the cinematographer son of two Colombian writers and director of several TV family drama series would turn his hand to both writing and directing a feature length screen drama. Now aged 51, Rodrigo Garcia’s talents enabled him to assemble two of the finest female American actors working today and a top notch ensemble cast for his adoption centred movie “Mother and Child” screened last Sunday.

Without the combined credentials of Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and a sensitively restrained Samuel Jackson, Garcia’s linked and episodic motherhood and adoption saga could have deteriorated into “weepie” contrived and manipulating pulp; but their unsentimental performances lifted the material to an almost flattering level.

The contrivance of the story line does not significantly erode its obvious humanity. Karen (Bening), a physical therapist, lives with her widowed mother and in a state of regret over her decision years back when aged 14 to give up her daughter Elizabeth (Watts) for adoption. Elizabeth grows up to become a solitary and hard hearted predator, suited some may say for her career choice as a hard hitting attorney hired by Paul (Jackson). Her affair with him leads to pregnancy and Elizabeth decides to leave the firm without telling Paul about her condition.

Elizabeth’s pregnancy and latent curiosity prompts her to write a letter to her birth mother and leave it with the agency. Meanwhile, childless Lucy applies to the agency and is put in touch with a birth mother who, on giving birth, decides to keep her child. Lucy is distraught but later comes to adopt Elizabeth’s child Ella when Elizabeth dies in childbirth. One year on, Karen learns about the letter (which had been misfiled) and her granddaughter and meets up with Lucy (now separated from her husband who was only ever interested in becoming a natural father), who conveniently lives in the neighbourhood. They are happy to stay in contact.

Rather like last week’s film, the closing events neatly round off the drama which somewhat takes the edge off the intended rooting of the film in reality; but the concerns for the characters and their problems never diminishes, and the drama is played out with such an honest conviction that we (or at least this reviewer) never felt distracted by the whiff of implausibility coming in some of the later scenes.

There was more than a touch of life imitating art in fact as the ever watchable Watts was pregnant with her son Samuel at the time of filming. Bening, last seen in “The Kids are Alright”, continues to impress with her choice of roles particularly in independent films. Jackson showed he is far more than his gun toting roles have suggested and Garcia’s direction was assured and appropriately restrained to allow the linked story lines to unfold naturally, though there was an earnest one paced feel throughout.

Garcia’s film was never intended as a vehicle for examining the shortcomings of the American adoption laws, but this reviewer found his eyebrows raised at some of the sequences (e.g. the birth mother’s delivery sequence and initial hand over to Lucy); but perhaps this may have been orchestrated for dramatic effect at the expense of a completely accurate reflection of the system.

Garcia’s film first saw the light of day at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and went on to receive a limited US release. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Deauville (France) American Film Festival (yes, since 1975 there has been a French Film Festival devoted to an appreciation of American cinema!). Keswick found it enjoyable, but opinions varied as to its nature and purpose and the timeless question “why have children?” remains as good a debating question as ever.

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19th Keswick Film Festival

22nd-25th February 2018


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