Seagrass: The Marital Crisis And Its Aftershocks

in 48th Toronto International Film Festival

by Diego Faraone

The award-winning and internationally acclaimed film Aftersun is an example of a feminine, intimate, profound, and experiential cinema, and is probably one of the best examples of an independent production that expresses a need, a feeling, and even a reflection of the peculiar historical moment we live in. The Canadian film Seagrass, which won the FIPRESCI Award at Toronto in 2023, shares these characteristics, deploying a vision of childhood, parenthood, and parent-child ties, in a similar tone that oscillates between pain and nostalgia; it’s also set on vacation, in those atypical spaces in which free time allows human relationships to emerge and become something different and much more vivid and honest.

A married couple in crisis seem willing to tap what is usually the last resource to save their bond: couples therapy, while they’re having a Pacific Coast vacation with their two daughters. But instead of strengthening the bond, the possibility of spending more time with each other promotes disputes and greater conflict, and their contact with other couples—also in crisis—is an inevitable temptation and a fire test. Meanwhile, the daughters confront the world, their fears, puberty—and the ghosts of their parents’ unresolved conflicts.

There are moments in which the director notably points at decisive situations for adolescent formation and self-acceptance, such as when one of the girls (played by Nyha Breitkreuz) is censored by a friend: “You are ridiculous,” she is told, after she spontaneously made a funny face. In another scene, a “sexy” dance in front of a large number of her teenage peers poses a challenge in which much more is at stake than simple momentary acceptance. It is also worth highlighting a certain identity crisis that afflicts the protagonist (Ally Maki); the death of her mother has cut the roots that in some way linked her to her origins and her past, which leads her to a situation of vulnerability and existential heaviness that her husband is not apparently capable of seeing, or understanding. The fact that she was not taught the Japanese language during her childhood in Canada gives the idea of a certain “shame” caused by the family’s immigrant status.

The furious waves on the beach, the sharp rocks, reflect interior landscapes that represent a continuous threat to the desired peace and harmony in this natural retreat. This endearing and wonderfully framed feature-directing debut film by Canadian actress Meredith Hama-Brown skillfully uses characters of great psychological and human density and deals also with subjects like masculinity, family taboos, and structural anti-Asian racism. It is an intimate, different film, worthy of deep analysis. It is evident that we will have to follow this young and talented filmmaker closely from now on.

Diego Faraone
Edited by Robert Horton