“Our Mother,” starring Brigitte Roüan, Zinedine Soualem, Milouda Chaqiq and Samir Guesmi, tells the story of an illiterate French Algerian mother on a journey to her past. As French cinema would have it, the film is calm, quiet and slow paced, with minimal script that is easy to follow, yet tells a compelling and rich story.
At the beck and call of her eleven children, Zayane lives a traditional and safe life, never venturing too far from home. One day, after the death of a man she worked for in Algeria during her youth, she receives a letter about a box. She leaves on a day’s journey to pursue this box, scattered with unexpected encounters, all the while her mysterious absence unites her children for the first time in a decade as they get to know a different side of their mother.
Every word is accompanied by meaningful expressions, movement and subtlety. Granted, many of those expressions portray morbidity, but that contributes to the heaviness of the emotions all the characters feel. The subtlety is seen in all the miniscule actions the characters take, even when in the background. An example is the brief exchange the two main sisters have about faith. We later see the hijab-wearing sister remove her scarf among her family and the showier sister give the bread a prayer after picking it up off the floor.
The film doesn’t exude novice, but the approach is definitely a refreshing change from the formulaic Hollywood films. The conclusion reached touches on nothing more than appreciation for their mother’s secret love life, after seeing how happy she was.
The material touches complicated human subjects such as religion, class, sexuality and immigration under one over-arching theme: Secrets. The exploration isn’t fleshed out to its full potential but it gives the audience a glimpse into what acceptance might look like. Everyone has a secret, even our mothers, and whatever secret is in store has the ability to change perception. Is it so hard to understand that our mothers have a life outside of us? “Our Mother” stresses just that, bringing her eleven children to become aware of their own selves and internal struggles, while acknowledging that not all is what it seems to be–even in the case of their loving, dedicated mother.
Although many character elements and plotlines could have been fleshed out more thoroughly, the mood the film pursues is that of subtle glimpses into the lives of this family, giving us a taste of bigger themes explored through their emotions, but without finite conclusions. Afterwards, I took my own mother out for dinner where she offered to tell some of our own family secrets.
Although many character elements and plotlines could have been fleshed out more thoroughly, the mood the film pursues is that of subtle glimpses into the lives of this family, giving us a taste of bigger themes explored through their emotions, but without finite conclusions.