When loaded with emotion, family stories often deal with complicated dynamics. Two films at the Locarno Film Festival are about mothers forced into involuntary family reunions, but similar tragedy in both stories leads to vastly different outcomes. It's a situation most of us face at some point: the death of one's mother.
“Shouting Secrets,” a Swiss/American production from director Korinna Sehringer, which was shown at Locarno just prior to the festival's official kick-off, is the story of a Native American family that suddenly has to care for its matriarch, June (Tantoo Cardinal), after she experiences a stroke. Their eldest, Tushka (Tyler Christopher), endangers his relationship to his wife and son through an escapade with an underage girl. Wesley (Chaske Spencer), has been estranged from the family since he found success as a writer with a fictional book that resembles his own history. The youngest, Pinti (Q'orianka Kilcher), is the protected little girl who struggles to tell her family about her pregnancy at the hands of a white musician. June has also had a motherly relation to Caitlyn (Tonantzin Carmelo), a young doctor at the local hospital who gets pregnant by way of a sperm donor.
June's marriage to husband Cal (Gil Birmingham) had been through tough times even before her stroke during the preparations for an anniversary party. When the family gathers in the hospital, they realize that June has been the glue holding them together. The concern for her life makes the reunion fraught with tension. As old and new problems break through, Wesley, confronted with his selfish escape, continues to struggle with the reasons that made him write his book.
The journey is similar in Stéphane Brizé's “Quelques Heures de Printemps,” which was shown as a world premiere on Sunday at the Piazza Grande. At the age of 48, Alain (Vincent Lindon) is forced to move back into his mother Yvette's (Helene Vincent) house. Soon, old disagreements arise and lead to horrible fights. When Alain discovers Yvette's fatal illness, she has already made up her mind for an assisted suicide in Switzerland. Yvette suffers from brain cancer and does everything to keep Alain with her in her last months of life, even as he struggles to overcome his pride.
Both mothers project a protective image to everyone around them, and both films powerfully convey the connection between child and parent. June and Yvette never give up on their kids: the former keeps trying to reach her lost son while the latter forgives Alain's every outburst, no matter how cruel. As different as they are, both deal with the delicate topic of death with equal amounts of sensitivity. Death brings families together, and forces children to finally express their feelings towards their parents. In “Shouting Secrets,” death comes unexpectedly and the family realizes that June deserved more appreciation. In “Quelques Heures de Printemps," Alain has time to prepare himself for the loss and fails to use it.
Both films are worth seeing, but “Quelques Heures de Printemps” leaves a more lasting impact. Alain is left alone, incapable of expressing his feelings, still struggling with life, while in “Shouting Secrets” the shouting dies away with a happy ending and a newfound family dynamic.
Claudia Piwecki is part of Indiewire's Critics Academy at the Locarno Film Festival. She lives in Basel, Switzerland, where she is the chief editor of the cultural section of www.semestra.ch, and is enrolled in a Master's program in cultural studies. Click here to read all of the Academy's work.