"One Mother" – An Autobiographical Research

in 65th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Peter Kremski

When Mickaël Bandela got 35 years old, he founded a family of his own, becoming the father of a little girl, Paloma. She is the first person we see in his film, safe in her sleep and smiling as her mother’s hands caress her face. Paloma is nearly six months old, an age of particular significance for her father, the filmmaker Mickaël Bandela. As he is also the narrator, we listen to his voice addressing his daughter in the film: “My daughter, soon you will be six months old. At the age of six months, my mother gave me to another mother.”

A baby photo of him follows: “This is me!” Then he cuts to himself at his present age as an adult looking into the camera, announcing that this film will tell his own story, the story of a child who grew up for nearly twenty years in a foster family. By this, Mickaël Bandela introduces himself, not only as director and narrator of the film but also as its protagonist.

Bandela is nevertheless not the film’s star. The film’s shining but elusive star is his original mother, who handed him over to a replacement mother at the end of the 1970s. She was 18 years old, living under difficult social conditions and dreaming of a career as a model in front of a camera. We see them both later, mother and son, dancing together at her 50th birthday celebration – a romantic reunion. Bandela’s mother has become his obsession, as he says at one point in the story. A song by Bob Dylan, interpreted by Jeff Buckley, accompanies the opening sequence at the beginning: “Mama, you been on my mind.”

The film closes with a picture of Olivia, the filmmaker’s second daughter, newly arrived at the stage of life, safely guarded by her father and her older sister. An insert shot shows us that the narrated story now has arrived the year 2020. At that time, filmmaker and father Mickaël Bandela has reached the age of 41 years. In the opening credits, he dedicates his film to his two little daughters; in the final credits, he also dedicates it to his two mothers, his biological sister, and all his further siblings from the foster family. Also, to his wife, the mother of his children.

Mickaël Bandela presumably started to film and photograph his mother around 2004. She became his “obsession” as he was trying to find out why she had given him into the hands of another mother and what her notion of motherhood and family might be, as she always kept contact by irregularly visiting him. Considering these early beginnings, the production of his film has a long forerun.

In 2014 Mickaël Bandela founded his production company Ruska Films in Paris, producing and editing tv commercials and music videos and preparing the autobiographical documentary about his family history. A first version was completed in 2020 under the title Scenes from Foster Care (Scènes d’un placement familial). Now, a second documentary, One Mother (Une mère), which world-premiered in the International Competition at DOK Leipzig approaches this theme again in a different manner.

Mickaël Bandela recounts the story of his life in chronologically built chapters indicated by time marks, at times supported by written comments of social workers and welfare educators. He starts with his childhood in a foster family up to 20, when foster care ended. After that, standing on his own feet, he loses his path and seems to be on his way to self-destruction until an encounter with his future wife saves him. Building up a family of his own helps him find his life balance.

Bandela follows otherwise no strict chronology, as he freely orders his fragmental material (photographs and video recordings) by association more than a typical narrative structure. Again and again, experimental sequences express the inner state of the narrator/protagonist, his solitude, emotional disturbance, and loss of orientation or even mirror distortions in his subjective perception of the world, adding a surreal level to the story. Bandela’s remarkable technical skills show in his work on the images and colors and his multi-layered editing. He controls the film as a producer, director, author, cinematographer, editor, and sound engineer, making it as personal as possible.

Another substantial element in the structure of his film are extensive interviews with his two mothers, the first one from the Congo, the second one from Martinique, both of them acting according to a different philosophy of life. Once, following his biological mother to Africa, he discovers family dimensions that were unknown to him. In search of his roots, he finds an expanded conception of what family can be, learning from his mother that she never abandoned him and that family bonds remain, even if family members are not living together.

Peter Kremski
Edited by Anne-Christine Loranger