Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Anyone who has cared for a loved one whose mind is disintegrating will recognise some of these feelings."

“Are you going to tell her?”

That’s the question hanging over Andrea Pallaoro’s gently unfolding tale of a trans woman returning to her family home to care for her ailing mother, and yet it’s a question which the film refuses to be defined by. An opening scene in which Monica (Trace Lysette) sits in her car trying to deal with the breakdown of a romantic relationship, and is forced to fend off the attentions of a persistently flirtatious stranger, makes it clear that Pallaoro has no time for familiar clichés. Monica’s gender history is not an issue here, though it helps to define the film’s parameters. The writer/director is much more interested in familial love and how it can persist even in the most trying of circumstances.

Copy picture

That Eugenia (Patricia Clarkson) has previously rejected Monica does not need to be spelled out early on. We can see it in everybody’s cautious behaviour, and it’s evidenced in the fact that Monica has been away for a long time. Her brother Paul (Joshua Close) and his wife Laura (Emily Browning) have been managing the care situation, with some professional help. They have children whom Monica has never met, and there is a lot of warm familial bonding around the margins of the central subject. Paul and Monica have a lot of catching up to do, and in due course we learn how her leaving affected him.

Eugenia doesn’t recognise her, at least initially. Later, as the two converse more and more and little details slip out, we are prompted to wonder if she might have guessed, but she drifts between moments of lucidity and confusion, so even then, we can’t know if she would have retained her understanding. In a powerful early scene, she is struck by panic in the night, crying out for her own mother, and Monica holds her tenderly, as she might once have needed to be held herself.

Anyone who has cared for a loved one whose mind is disintegrating will recognise some of these feelings. In these circumstances, words, names, and even the specificity of relationships, become less important. Love is first and foremost a verb, expressed by doing. Monica struggles to cope with the situation at times, overwhelmed by her own need, which is compounded by whatever has gone wrong in her personal life. A lengthy central scene in which she’s driving and listening to Pulp’s Common People emphasises her longing to be able to live just like everyone else, and also suggests that she needs to learn to attach more value to what is unique about her. Journeying with her through this difficult terrain, we are invited to wonder if receiving love all it’s cracked up to be, and if, in the end, having the opportunity to give love is more important.

Shot in square format, the film keeps us close. Everything is happening in the moment, with no room for thinking about the wider world or the future. We experience it as observers; we are not indulged with exposition. The pace is slow, creating a sense of timelessness. Monica sits and smokes by the long disused swimming pool as flies buzz lazily around. Eugenia lies on the couch whilst the children do a jigsaw puzzle, indistinct voices filtering through from the kitchen. The highly capable cast have lots of room to explore and express their characters. Once you have settled into their rhythm, you won’t want to leave.

Monica is in cinemas in the US from 12 May.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2023
Share this with others on...
Monica packshot
An intimate portrait of a woman who returns home to care for her dying mother.
Amazon link

Director: Andrea Pallaoro

Writer: Andrea Pallaoro, Orlando Tirado

Starring: Trace Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Adriana Barraza, Emily Browning, Joshua Close

Year: 2022

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: US, Italy

Search database:

Related Articles:

Fluid and delicate