Unbroken Bonds

The bond between a mother and daughter may be one of the strongest forces in the world. These bonds rarely yield to external forces such as time, distance, or separation, and the subject of mothers and daughters has provided inspiration for countless artists over the centuries. These relationships that women forge are complex, layered, and often intense, and when the bonds of motherhood are broken, the grief that remains can be a paralyzing force. Last month I saw a film that delves into the grief of mothers and daughters torn apart, and the result is a stunningly beautiful filmgoing experience that manages to tear at your heart while offering hope for the future.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes recently debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and it easily became one of my favourites of the films that I saw. While my other two favourites endeared themselves to me through the laughter they inspired, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes struck a much deeper chord, and the film has stayed with me long after the credits rolled. The story follows the titular Emanuel, a young woman who is haunted with guilt over the fact that her mother died while giving birth to her. Emanuel’s life is complicated when a young mother, Linda, and her baby girl move in next door. Emanuel is drawn to this woman due to Linda’s resemblance to Emanuel’s deceased mother, and Emanuel begins working for Linda as her babysitter. To reveal the plot further would spoil the film, but needless to say, this is not your average story.

Written and directed by Francesca Gregorini, this film succeeds because the twists and turns of the plot are refreshingly original, and the movie keeps you guessing right up until the last reveal. The film also manages to look at the relationship between mothers and daughters from an entirely unique angle, and in doing so, the film reveals just how pervasive the grief can be when those relationships are fractured. In particular, the relationship between Emanuel and Linda is especially poignant, as both women are broken in their own way, and seek solace in each other as they heal their wounds. Gregorini gets masterful performances out of her two lead actresses, Kaya Scodelario and Jessica Biel as Emanuel and Linda respectively, with a wonderful supporting cast that includes Alfred Molina, Frances O’Conner, Jimmi Simpson, and Aneurin Barnard.

I don’t know whether this film was picked up for distribution during Sundance, but I do know that Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is an incredibly well made and beautifully shot film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Moreover, during the post-screening Q&A, Gregorini spoke about her difficulties in getting financing for this film, and I hope that Emanuel will prove once and for all that she is a filmmaker worth the investment. If she can produce such a perceptive and intriguing, not to mention gorgeous rendering of one of life’s most emotionally difficult subjects, imagine what she could produce next.

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