Beautiful Something Left Behind


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Beautiful Something Left Behind
"Philp directs with a light touch, letting her young subjects lead the way."

There have been few years in human history like 2020 - few when so many, spread all across the world, have been united in their sudden experience of loss. The year has seen extensive public discussion about grief and how to handle it, and Katrine Philp's documentary, shot before the pandemic happened, makes a timely contribution. This is the story of the Good Grief movement and the groups that help children to cope with bereavement. Its young participants, aged between five and ten, work through their grieving processes together, and we watch them both inside and outside the groups as they explore ways of dealing with their feelings.

Losing a loved one is hard enough to deal with for an adult. Very young children don't always have the context to understand that death is final, making those continued absences all the more confusing and painful. Children who lose their caregivers can find their whole worlds turned upside down. The relatively small social circles that most children have mean that a death can have a profoundly isolating effect, and all these factors can make life in general more difficult at a stage when they need to be developing their social skills. When they come together, however, they can find strength from a community of peers who understand a lot of what they're going through. These other children will understand if they sometimes just need to be silent or if they need to to yell. There's even a Volcano Room in which to blow off steam - and who doesn't want one of those? Sometimes, unexpectedly, they find themselves having fun.

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There are adults here - counsellors, relatives, an uncle who has given up his old life overnight, after losing his sister and brother-in-law, in order to raise their little boy. Many are dealing with grief of their own, but we glimpse it only in passing. The primary focus of the film - like their own - is on the children. Kimmy, Nicky, Peter, Nora, Nolan and Mikayla have lost parents and siblings but they're still here and, like all children, working out how to make their way through life. Philp keeps the camera low, the upper half of adults sometimes cut out of the frame, bringing us closer to the world as they see it. They talk about who their loved ones were and how they died, and they draw pictures, and some of them perform rituals they have developed as a means of sending messages to the dead or saying goodbye.

Whilst this may sound like grim viewing and possibly the last thing you want if you've recently lost loved ones yourself, there's a cathartic aspect to it and it will renew your sense of wonder at the power children have to adjust to the most trying of circumstances. Imagination and play make important contributions as they move forwards and grow as people. The discovery that there can still be joy in the world and that it's okay to laugh is an important one. There's a great deal of love in the film and a recognition that the love of those who have gone has not diminished in value.

Philp directs with a light touch, letting her young subjects lead the way. For them, life is full of unknowns and death is just one more. They have a good deal of living to get on with.

Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2020
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New Jersey’s Good Grief counseling center offers a holistic approach to mourning. This film offers a child's perspective of grief.

Director: Katrine Philp

Year: 2020

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Denmark


DOC NYC 2020

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