Mari

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Mari
"Bobbie Cousins' marvellous production design packs in the details that inform us about the life that is fading." | Photo: Courtesy of London Film Festival

We first meet Charlotte (Bobbi Jene Smith) when she's dancing. It's part of a rehearsal for her first significant work as a choreographer, something that's vitally important for her to establish a long term career. Her dedication to her work is etched in the lines of her body (Smith is an accomplished dancer herself and her choreography work made it to the big screen in last year's Annihilation). We can also see her passion in the way that she moves, especially with young dancer Ryan (Will Thompson), with whom she has a connection clearly not limited to the dancefloor. Later, in the toilets, she takes a pregnancy test and we see the tension between passion and the focus needed for success.

There's plenty of story right here but it's cut off before it can get going, her precarious future put on hold, by a phone call. Mari (Paddy Glynn), her grandmother, is dying. Her mother wants her to get there straight away. It's a quiet country town. The spacious, window-lined studio and cool concrete and glass buildings of the city are replaced by low beamed ceilings, floral patterned curtains and a landscape that is at once wide open and very, very narrow. The sound of bare feet hitting wood gives way to heavy silences. In the hospice, in the fields, in Mari's house, we feel cocooned. Everyone is hesitant, waiting. Nobody knows who they will be when they emerge.

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In this stifling space, Charlotte's mother Margot (Phoebe Nicholls) is trying to contain her grief by focusing on the practical, sorting out the dying woman's things rather faster than the others feel comfortable with. Sister Lauren (Madeleine Worrall) is doing her best to be the good daughter but is additionally stressed because she's recently had a miscarriage. Both these women struggle with longstanding feelings of resentment towards Charlotte, with Lauren's partner Rohan (Peter Singh) standing on the sidelines, trying to take care of everyone and inevitably getting blamed as a result. Charlotte's father manifests only over the phone, loud and inappropriate, an indicator of past conflict, and we are left to wonder about the fact that Charlotte is the only one he talks to. The only other person who seems to have been close to her is Mari herself.

There's a lot here that will resonate with people who have lived in small towns. "Do you think you're too good..?" is a well known refrain. Too good to stay, to put family first, to put reproduction before a career, to submit to the belief that one hasn't a hope of ever amounting to anything anyway - all the techniques used to try and cut down those who want more out of life. Yet first time feature writer/director Georgia Parris doesn't treat these characters as if they themselves amount to nothing. We see Margot trying to bond with her daughter through dance. She doesn't understand the creative impulse the way Mari, a painter, did, but she understands the health benefits of movement and the value of common ground.

Bobbie Cousins' marvellous production design packs in the details that inform us about the life that is fading and the family's history in and around Mari's house. Adam Scarth's cinematography enfolds domestic scenes in shadows, softening the edges of the screen and shifting our expectations of space. It pulls out the textures in layers of fabric and paint. Parris, who also has a background in dance, makes wonderful use of movement within this space, and key scenes use dance directly to tell us what's going on within Charlotte, all that passion bubbling back to the surface, without ever interfering with the rhythm of the film. The result is an extraordinarily centred and confident d├ębut which successfully enters the difficult emotional space around bereavement and explores family - however dysfunctional it may otherwise be - as a source of strength and resistance in the face of death.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2019
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Mari packshot
A dancer faces trouble on the home front.
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Director: Georgia Parris

Year: 2018

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

London 2018

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