starring Hazel Doupe, Paul Reid, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie
written and directed by Kate Dolan
by Bill Chambers Although I called last year's iteration of the Festival "the COVID-19 TIFF," it's really the 2021 crop of films that have been shaped by the pandemic, formally and, perhaps as a result, conceptually, the way Jørgen Leth wound up with five dissimilar incarnations of his experimental short The Perfect Human when Lars von Trier tasked him with remaking it under different sets of "obstructions." In a charming pre-taped intro that saw her receiving trick-or-treaters (points for creativity), writer-director Kate Dolan talked about how difficult it was shooting You Are Not My Mother during the second lockdown in Ireland, but there's a low-key expressionism to the film that might be a happy accident, a bonus stemming from compromise. Our young heroine navigates a near-apocalyptically empty suburbia, which feels not necessarily true, but right, externalizing her feelings of isolation along with her vulnerability. The movie isn't pushing any envelopes, however, and is, to some extent, modest to a fault.
Char (Hazel Doupe) does so well in school that she's a grade ahead, though it's made her an outcast, as has the burn mark on her face. At home, she tiptoes around her clinically depressed mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), whose disappearance one day is met with a fatalistic shrug by Char's grandmother (Ingrid Craigie) and uncle (Paul Reid). Angela is a lost cause. But then she returns, reinvigorated, and life goes on--except for Char, who senses this isn't just another one of Angela's "up" periods. This is a different person altogether; a daughter knows. Plus, human food seems to make this Angela retch. There's an unfortunate inevitability to You Are Not My Mother that becomes enervating, and it isn't entirely due to Dolan drawing inspiration for her screenplay from some of the well-travelled folklore surrounding Samhain, i.e., the Gaelic festival that gave us Halloween. Because it sparks fear yet not much in the way of interrogation from Char, the body-snatcher stuff is fairly one-note, while a reverse heel-turn by the head bully (Jordanne Jones) is nothing if not predictable. I've also never been a fan of genre fare that allegorizes physical or mental illness after representing it literally. It's glib--which is the opposite of this labour of love's whole unaffected vibe. Still, You Are Not My Mother has deeply-felt performances and cozily evokes the spookiness that dampens the air in late-fall. Or maybe that's just Ireland. PROGRAMME: MIDNIGHT MADNESS