As the last full month of Autumn came to an end, a new season of Amsterdam’s international documentary festival starts. Known as IDFA, between the 20th of November until the 1st of December, the theaters and cinemas of Amsterdam crowded with audiences from all over the globe who came to watch, rate and criticize documentary film.
With a close look at the participating movies, it’s clear that IDFA this year presented a various collection of thematic documentaries – social, historical, and political categories that highlight the emotional and realistic sides of human stories. Motherhood is one of those categories that was deeply displayed. Many, filmmaker or otherwise, may believe that a mother is just a woman to the world. But, for her family, she is the world. From two different parts of the world came two films that discussed this one topic. Norie and Let’s Talk are Japanese and Egyptian films, respectively, that exposed hidden sides of motherhood including their -no longer- children’s points of view. Yuki Kawamura – director of Norie – is a Japanese filmmaker who experienced the death of his mother at a very early age. He takes the audience into a journey within himself and his surroundings. While Marian Khoury – director of Let’s Talk – is an Egyptian filmmaker and producer. She steps back to have a look at her past and the family she made. She is also a mother of Sarah who takes part in the film telling her own perspective.
30 years after his mother’s death, Yuki Kawamura decided to bring his mother “back to life”. Through her letters, friends, and father’s memories, he brings about many feelings symbolized through black and white scenes of nature intercut with long silences – expressing the prevalent recovery of old memories.
The natural life cycle has always required a mother taking care of her child. It’s noticed, in this film, how the son also expressed how beautiful his mother was. In surrounding nature, ceremonies, music, and places, he saw her in everything, affecting his whole life through her memory. In this way, Yuki brought his mother to life through a cycle that was perfectly reversed. The death of Norie, who died from cancer at age 32 leaving two kids behind, still affects everybody’s life after all the years. Yuki constantly wondered if his mother’s spirit visits them or not, in dreams or otherwise.
Kawamura structured the documentary dependant on Norie’s letters about herself and her work. With her writings combined with her relative’s stories, the audience gets the full image of Norie without ever meeting her. She connected all her relations and love with her beloved places. Using these elements, Kawamura made a trifecta of favorite friends, husband, and places to form his mother’s visual memorial.
While Kawamura was unveiling beauty in his beloved mother, he also unveiled his father’s greatest pain. A lifetime agony he locked himself with that would accompany him to the grave. He realizes that, even after all this time, it still hurts to lose your love. Through the father’s confessions that were kept hidden for 30 years, he rediscovered his relationship with his son, now no longer a child. They shared a love for Norie, memories, and absence. Though Norie has always been alive in their hearts, Yuki and his father just needed a conversation to realize it.
Tracking the stories of women in Yusif Shahin’s – one of Egypt’s renowned filmmakers – family leads to many painful motherhood stories. Four generations of women are exposed through the Egyptian documentary Let’s Talk, where Director Marian Khoury tells her grandmothers, mothers, and her own stories about raising children: the burdens they had to carry and the lifetime guilt they felt towards their beloved children. Let’s Talk is an invitation to all mothers to talk about their pain and the price they each had to pay. Nothing to be ashamed of and no more fear of judgment. This is how I feel, and I am a mother.
Not only a filmmaker, but Khoury is also a writer and producer. In fact, her family has produced Egyptian movies for decades. This full life of work and inspiration for Egyptian society also reveals it’s parental side represented in old stories and ongoing feelings. It is also important to mention how her life was intertwined with that of her uncle, Yousif Chahine, who ultimately had the greatest effect on her, making the film movie closer to a confessional from one of Egypt’s most popular families.
Let’s Talk not only discusses what a mother usually faces but also highlights the daughter’s feelings. A time shall come when children grow up enough to talk about how their mothers raised them. Sarah – Marian’s daughter – had a lonely life between France and Egypt, feeling lost between cultures and countries, and searched for an identity. She talks about situations that hurt and others she could not forget. Knowing her mother chose to follow her rebellious uncle in his career path, however, makes her consistently proud of her strong mother. This mix of conflicting feelings highlights the features of Chahine’s family.
Through the stories supported by family videos and recordings, it is visible how each mother was special in her own way, standing for her dreams, and looking for perfection in her perspectives. There’s no right or wrong in motherhood, only points of view and pure love. Mothers are human beings after all. Ones who succeed and make mistakes in very personal ways.
Norie and Let’s Talk are but two conversations that took place in IDFA this year that bring the experience of motherhood to life. These women carried their motherhood, as well as their dreams, and walked in their own ways when chasing life. Decades later, a new generation took their place and proved that some women could achieve the impossible – bringing life to the world.
Featured Image: Let’s Talk, a film by Marianne Khoury