UK Premiere / Feature – International
Catherine Martin / Canada / 2010 / 87 min / French with English subtitles
Imagining the death of someone we love is an unimaginable pain, let alone when it happens for real and we are faced with the harrowing ordeal of mourning and struggling to come to terms with our loss. It is often said that the death of a child is the worst possible grief, which only a parent can appreciate. So watching Françoise (Guylaine Tremblay) in the depths of bereavement after the death of her 23-year-old daughter is done with a heavy and sympathetic heart.
Although Anna (Sheila Jaffe) was murdered, we don’t know how, why, or by who. Instead the focus is purely on Françoise’s grief as her mother. Writer-director Catherine Martin’s mise-en-scène beautifully reflects the slow, daze-like trudge of mourning, from empty snow-covered landscapes to the cold soullessness of a house that was once a home. As Françoise’s grief progresses, we see the painful dreams that Anna is still alive, as well as moments when she imagines her grandmother, mother and even Anna comforting her and encouraging her to keep living when all she wants to do is die. Tremblay’s performance is truly compelling; it would take a hard person not to shed a tear during some of her most vulnerable and expressive moments.
As is to be expected, this is far from the cheeriest of subjects so it requires a certain frame of mind upon watching to avoid becoming horribly depressed. For those who’ve experienced grief, the numb meaninglessness where every tiny action is slow and laboured will be painfully recognisable. But the thing that really lets Mourning for Anna down is that this is the only dimension of this complex emotion that is explored – where is the misdirected anger, the pretention of ‘normality’, the selfishness, the self-pity? Perhaps these are the more taboo sides of grief – or the most difficult to represent – but they are nevertheless important in such a lengthy and otherwise honest portrayal.