Family life isn’t always pretty. Ageing is inevitable, health problems and the inability to communicate feelings, anxieties and disappointments are often conspicuous. No family is exempt from thorny and painful issues, even where there is plenty of love, affection and altruism. Scottish artist and filmmaker Karen Guthrie took the difficult and brave decision to film her own family in all of their virtues and fallacies. Cinema here isn’t just a register of woes and wounds. It is, above everything else, a tool for reflection and reconciliation. Perhaps it is also a cathartic venting outlet.
Karen’s mother Ann is very old and frail, having recently suffered a stroke. Karen voices her predicament in a very shockingly candid fashion: “We’ve brought back home what’s left of her”. Ann’s memory and speech have been deeply affected, and the impact on Karen and the rest of the family is tremendous. Karen is once again very succinct: “Hope she forgot all she lost, because we haven’t”.
The filmmaker brazenly exposes the shortcomings of her family members, particularly her father. He abandoned the family 15 years ago in order to live in Africa, but recently rejoined them. She also exposes the day his secret Ethiopian love child arrived on their doorstep, and how her family welcomed the unexpected and unlikely new addition. Yet she is neither resentful nor patronising of her dad. She displays instead a firm and stoic acceptance of the mistakes the old man made in the past. Perhaps she understands and respects his decisions.
The film is packed with awkward silences and long takes of her mother being hoisted in and out of bed and around the house. Karen’s narration is heartfelt and yet laborious. Emotions are very British. Had this been an Italian or Brazilian film, there would be likely plenty of screaming and finger-pointing. Yet the British seem able to get very close to the heart of the matter without an epic display of anger and frustration.
The most powerful moment of the film comes in the end, when Ann – despite her extremely frail body and fragmented mind – tries cheer up her daughter Karen. Despite her condition, she is still able to convey altruism, hope and happiness. A very beautiful lesson to be learnt.
DMovies is giving away three DVDs or Blu-rays of The Closer We Get to our readers in the UK. Just e-mail us the name of the filmmaker to email@example.com. We will announce the winners during the second week of September.
You can find out more information about distribution rights and how to view the film on their webpage here. And you can also watch the film trailer below: