Modern (Movie) Parenthood By Nils Vermund Gjerstad

in 57th Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Nils Gjerstad

Families and relationships are presently in a state of change in the Western world. This topic is strongly reflected in The Baby Formula, One Shot and Borderline, all three of which were in the competition program at the 57th Film Festival in Mannheim-Heidelberg.

(Warning! This article contains spoilers.)

Alison Reid’s The Baby Formula is a fake documentary/mockumentary depicting the dual pregnancies of a lesbian married couple, Lilith and Athena. In the opening scene, they rhetorically ask: why shouldn’t they have children on their own? Thanks to modern science — at least in this entirely fictional story — they can both be impregnated with cells derived from both women. In the end, Lilith and Athena give birth to a beautiful baby girl, to the great happiness of their friends and families. Director Reid clearly wants to challenge the traditional view of the family model: Must there necessarily be a man and a woman to make things work out successfully? In this day and age when the divorce rate (among heterosexuals) is so high, it certainly is a point. But the story drags on, with a lot of melodrama and quarrels with various family members and others. The main arguments are repeated over and over again, to the point of boredom.

Linda Wendel’s One Shot is a darker and more disturbing tale about family issues. The concept is very interesting in itself, with the entire movie produced in one continuous camera shot. It is handheld, which gives the movie a nervous atmosphere that resonates well with the story. In the opening scene, a young woman, Sally, drives up to a mansion in the Danish countryside, where her middle-aged mother lives. As soon as she gets out of the car, she vomits (indicating that she might be pregnant). Her mother is in the middle of sexual intercourse with her lover when Sally interrupts and announces her presence. Sally demands to speak with her, clearly with something important on her mind (her pregnancy, we assume). She is rejected and returns, producing a gun from her purse. This time, she demands to know who her father is. During her entire 27 year life she has never known, and it has made a deep emotional impact on her.

Lyne Charlebois’ Borderline also focuses on the consequences of irresponsible parents incapable of providing sufficient love and concern for their child. The opening shot is an aesthetic key scene with two naked bodies on top of each other. The protagonist, Kiki, lies in bed looking up at the ceiling — a sleeping lover, his back to the camera lying on top of her — when she begins to speak to the viewer. Her arms are outstretched (instead of embracing her companion). On the surface, it seems that the 30-year-old Kiki is on top of her situation, working on her first novel. But appearances are deceiving. She still grapples with childhood traumas — her mentally unstable mother never gave her the affection and care a child needs. As a result, she’s grown into a promiscuous adult, constantly searching for new and impulsive sexual escapades. In the movie’s final scene, Kiki is again shown in juxtaposition, arms outstretched, linking to the opening shot. The image becomes a symbol of her constant emotional rejection. The director suggests that Kiki has not changed during the film. She is “eternally” emotionally immature, a victim of her lack of love.

The Baby Formula, One Shot and Borderline share a common theme: All three films deal with the issue of contemporary parenthood. All of them are, interestingly enough, directed by women, with female protagonists. Sex scenes are shown graphically and suggested in all three of them: Dirty and gritty in One Shot, aesthetically in Borderline and romantically in The Baby Formula. The genres are somewhat different: The Baby Formula is a mockumentary/fake documentary/comedy, One Shot is a drama/tragedy (with some black comedy aspects) and Borderline is a drama/comedy. All three have a serious side (parenthood and responsibility), and also a funny side (the absurdity of the situation). Only one of them, The Baby Formula, has a happy ending.

But all three films come to the same conclusion — that being a parent calls for responsibility, care and love. Without those factors, there will be unhappiness and even tragedy. Ironically enough only the lesbian couple in The Baby Formula seems to be in possession of the sufficient love necessary to raise a child.

In this article I have chosen three of the films in the program, to limit the subject. A number of other competition entries dealt to some extent with unusual relationships and families. Most of the films also included sex scenes, but very few contained violence. Somewhat jokingly, it has been said that the Mannheim-Heidelberg festival is run by old hippies. Certainly this year’s selection of films had more than a hint of the old slogan, “make love, not war”.