Love & Stuff

A documentary filmmaker becomes the subject of examination in her own film. Judith Helfand documents her own life in telling the tale of her relationship with her mother and her eventual death.

Once again the mother-daughter relationship is put under the microscope here. Judith’s mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The two were very close. Throughout her adult life her mother had two worries for her – her weight/health and becoming a mother. Judith had promised her mother she would get in shape…it never happened and then it was too late.

Too late for her mother to see her being healthy. Working in the film industry, she had pushed herself to crazy levels and her eating habits had suffered. Eating healthy and going to the gym had both fallen by the wayside. As her mother became sicker and sicker, Judith really didn’t have the time for that. What she did attempt was adopting a child, but even that didn’t happen as when it looked like it finally would her mother’s death was imminent.

Seven months after her mother’s death, Judith was still in recovery mode. Still hoarding her mother’s stuff in her own small aparment. Not willing to discard anything that belonged to her mom. What she did undertake around her 50th birthday was to become a mother herself. She adopted a baby girl.

Suddenly, even though she was ecstatic to be a mom, what became crushing to her was that she was 50 years older than her daughter. She began to think about how old she would be when her daughter was 20 (70), when she was 30 (80) and so on. It became crystal clear that to see her daughter to that age that Judith was going to have to finally lose the weight she had been carrying around. How she was going to do that would be another story.

Until you really think about it you don’t realize how difficult it is for a filmmaker to make a documentary film about themselves. How do you remain unbiased? Give the audience the true story? There are many question with the answers never being evident or easy.

The desperate attempt to stay connected to her mother by saving every little item she owned, like things from lipstick to a meat grinder, really illunimates the borderline unhealthy attachment she had to her mother. Showing yourself in that light cannot be easy…or is it that she doesn’t really see it. As for the hoarding tendancies, I am not sure that she truly acknowledges that either. It might be clear as day for us viewers, but I am not sure what the director/subject sees.

It is also a difficult watch because you really see a woman of privilege here. A life unfurling as she wants. Now, it might be strange to say that about a woman who had to have a complete hysterectomy at a young age due to having the marker for cancer, but that is exactly how Judith lives. She adopts a child at a time she deems convenient. Then the way she decides to take off the weight…well, only a person of privilege could even consider it. Personally, at times it was hard to watch.

Then there is her daughter being a substitute for her mother. That the child is clearly a way to fill the void that the death of her mother has brought about in her life is evident. Smothering to say the least. Indulging the child’s every whim including painting her entire flat white because the child makes an offhand remark. Makes me wonder how that mother-daughter relationship is going to evolve as the child grows.

Bottom line is that the subject of this film is not always likable. Strange to say as she is the one who made the film. Again, it leads me to believe that she is not fully aware of her behaviour or how it looks to the outside world.