The Closer We Get


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Closer We Get
"Emotional weight grounds the film and gives it a resonance beyond the confines of this single family home."

Scotland has a fine tradition of intimate and unusual documentaries, with recent entries including Cailleach, 16 Years Till Summer and this personal and moving film from Karen Guthrie, which recently won the international prize at Hot Docs Film Festival. She takes her camera within the walls of her family's home documenting what happens in the months after her mum Ann had a stroke that left her needing full-time care. As with many families, what initially appears to be a simple set of relationships between Karen, Ann, her dad Ian and her brothers and sisters is much more complicated. And, with Ann at the centre of the family's daily operation, Guthrie begins to probe at questions from her family's past.

She doesn't romanticise her family - nor does she condemn them. Letting each member have their own voice and letting her camera linger on the minutiae of family life as she considers questions that her mum's illness has brought to the forefront of her mind. Many of them concern her relationship with her dad, who despite initial appearances has only just returned to living with the family after a considerable absence, in order to help take care of Ann. As the film progresses, his not-so-well-kept secrets become the focus of Guthrie's attention.

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"There's nothing to do and everything," says Guthrie. Her voice-over suggests that the same is true of conversations, with there seemingly nothing to say and everything - things she wants to share with her mum and others she wants to find out from her dad. It is this emotional weight that grounds the film and gives it a resonance beyond the confines of this single family home. Many people who have lived through the divorce of their parents will recognise aspects of this story, while others who are in carer relationships with a family member will find that a touchstone.

Ian is certainly the antagonist of the piece, he has a keen sense of humour and larger than life presence (and voice) that the family seem to find, by turns, comfortingly familiar and annoying as hell. And the latent anger that Guthrie feels towards him is particularly prominent in the middle section of the film. If the lies he at one time told his wife are the most obvious, however, the documentarian is also alert to the other, more everyday contrivances that we tell ourselves in order to avoid confrontation or exposure. Through the course of the film she will find herself travelling to a foreign country but the larger journey - and the one she bravely shares with the camera and us - is the internal psychological terrain she is negotiating, considering where she has come from and where she wants to go. The success of the film is that she takes us with her on both journeys that are at once intensely personal yet filled with ideas and problems that are universal.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2015
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Auto- biographical documentary about an apparently ordinary family having to stoically deal with broken dreams and hidden secrets.
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Read more The Closer We Get reviews:

Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Karen Guthrie

Writer: Karen Guthrie, Karen Guthrie

Starring: Karen Guthrie, Ian Guthrie, Ann Guthrie

Year: 2015

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: UK, Ethiopia


EIFF 2015

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