Review: Love & Stuff

Year: 2020

Runtime: 80 Minutes

Director: Judith Helfand

By Bianca Garner

Becoming a new mother is a difficult and challenging task at the best times. Ask any new mother for their honest and frank response about whether or not it’s hard work, and they are bound to reply with a simple YES. Filmmaker Judith Helfand‘s venture into motherhood goes beyond the realms of the ordinary challenges that new Mom’s face. At the age of 50, Judith became a single mother to a newborn daughter she adopted. Judith’s world had already been turned upside down, just a few short months prior to the arrival of her new baby, Theodora.

At the time, Judith was still in the process of grieving after the loss of her terminally ill mother. Her apartment housed boxes of her mother’s belongings that she couldn’t bear to part from. And, the promises her mother had asked her to keep also stuck around like those disorganised boxes: to adopt a child of her own, and to live a healthier, more active lifestyle.

Now faced with the responsibilities of being a new parent, she quickly became aware just how precious her time slot was in order to change for the better…to be able to sit down and have a tea party with her daughter and be able to stand up from the chair without requiring assistance. We see through “Love & Stuff” the true transformative power that parenthood can have on us all. We watch Judith grow alongside her own daughter, and it’s truly beautiful, heartwarming food for the soul.

“Love & Stuff” is also brutally honest, and offers us unique access into Judith’s own inner thoughts and feelings.”

Told through first-person, Judith documents it all. She’s no stranger to videotaping her life. In fact, when we are first introduced to Judith’s world, we see her as a young twenty-something who is on a trip to the beach with her mother, Florence. “Where are we going?” Judith asks. “We’re celebrating life,” her mother replies. It’s the early 90s, and Judith has recently undergone a Hysterectomy. She will never be able to give birth.

This is truly life shattering stuff. As someone who is waiting to have surgery to determine what stage my Endometriosis is at, and trying to come to terms with the prospect that I, too, may be unable to have children…Well, let’s just say, I could not stop the tears from flowing. My heart ached for Judith in such a way, it felt like it was going to escape from my chest.

However, it’s through the love, support and care of her mother that Judith manages to find the strength to continue. She used that frustration, rage and energy to make the documentary “A Healthy Baby Girl” to spread the truth about the devastating effects of DES. In 1963, her mother was prescriped an inneffective, carcinogenic synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES), meant to prevent miscarriage and ensure a healthy baby. Instead of helping, it led to Judith developing DES-related cervical cancer.

Judith shows us the cycle of life, the truth of grief and the importance of remembering a loved one as an entire person.”

Judith’s and her family’s story didn’t end in 1996. Their stories continued for many years afterwards, and Judith’s camera was always there to capture it all. In 2013, Florence made the decision to stop treating her terminal colon cancer and experience a quiet, dignified death at home. Judith took care of her mother until the very end. As someone who lost a parent unexpectedly, you always wish you’d had the hindsight to document their last days in the manner that Judith did.

This may sound like morbid stuff, but it truly isn’t. Judith shows us the cycle of life, the truth of grief and the importance of remembering a loved one as an entire person, including their excessive collection of Elephant figurines and all those pairs of identical black shoes. “Love & Stuff” shows us that we humans are beautiful, complicated, funny old things. It also shows that we are often stronger than we initially think we are. This is a truly inspiring piece of filmmaking.

“It’s hard to express how much I needed this documentary without even realising it. It’s incredible. There’s really no other word to describe it.”

“Love & Stuff” is also brutally honest, and offers us unique access into Judith’s own inner thoughts and feelings. We hear her own narration, informing us that “documenting the only thing that made me cope…a way to process what had happened.” Judith had faced tragedies that many of us would never truly experience in the same way. Her past made her stronger, not just for her, but for her new baby daughter. Considering all the tragedy that we have faced in this year alone, there is so much from Judith’s story that we can take away from.

While watching the documentary, I sobbed, I laughed, and I cheered. I felt so much warmth, compassion and empathy for Judith, her mother, her family and her daughter. It’s hard to express how much I needed this documentary without even realising it. It’s incredible. There’s really no other word to describe it.

You can find out more about “Love & Stuff” and Judith’s other work here. You can also follow Judith on Twitter at @judithhelfand.

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