Runtime: 66 Minutes
Director: Andrea Testa
By Bianca Garner
We watch as a thirteen-year old girl is being interviewed about her pregnancy. She’s had to leave home as a result of her pregnancy, and she now lives alone with only a pet dog for company. The gynecologist asks her who she came with today, “My cousin.” the girl replies, “She’s fun.” This isn’t a scene from Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” but a slice of reality in the form of Andrea Testa’s documentary, “Mother-Child”.
For just over an hour, we meet many more young women as they come to visit an unnamed hospital. They all share something in common, they are or have been pregnant. Each story is unique, but they all share similarities. All these women live in a society where they are encouraged not to get an aborition due to the strict religious beliefs of Argentina.
Testa makes a conscious decision to never show the hospital staff on-screen, they are simply voices located beyond the camera. Instead, all of our focus and attention are on the women. These young mothers give us unique access into their lives and they give us the privilege of hearing their stories.
The film opens with one woman who is eager to have her tubes tied, she’s only twenty-years old but she’s recently given birth to her fourth child. The waiting list is long, such surgery may not even be a possibility. A member of staff asks her about whether or not her husband will wear a condom. The mother replies back, in a somewhat defeated sounding voice, “It’s impossible to talk to him about these things.”
“These women are facing difficult, almost impossible decisions to make, it’s their bodies but it’s not their choice.”
Men are spoken about but never seen. They seem like mythological mysterious figures, who seem to be the controlling force over each and every woman we see. Another thirteen-year old girl called Analela speaks about how she met her boyfriend Brian at a party then “the blessing” occurred and she fell pregnant. The only thing is that not only is she now pregnant, she has also caught syphilis too.
And, because she’s still so young, her uterus hasn’t quite developed. The gynaecologist even asks if she was taught about conception at school, only for Analela to reveal she was. It’s clear that she’s been pressured into having unprotected sex by her boyfriend. However, she’s not the only one being pressured and mistreated by her partner.
“These young mothers give us unique access into their lives and they give us the privilege of hearing their stories.”
We hear from a woman who was beaten so badly by her boyfriend that her baby had to be delivered by C-Section, “I’m afraid of knives” she confesses to the camera after her attacker cut her. There’s another woman who speaks of her decision to have a termination because she was raped, she tells us her age, she’s just fifteen years old.
There are women like Joana who have suffered from nearly dying because of a miscarriage, and another woman who took an illegal tablet as a way to terminate her pregnancy. “Nobody will judge you. Nobody can judge you.” a female member of staff says off-screen and we can’t help but echo those words. These women are facing difficult, almost impossible decisions to make, it’s their bodies but it’s not their choice.
Shot in black and white, “Mother-Child” is beautifully stark and honest. There are no fancy, dramatic camera angles. Instead, cinematographer Gustavo Schiaffino, makes the decisions to shoot in simple mid-shots and the rare close-up, but there’s so much power and intense beauty in these shots. Our focus should solely be on these mothers and their children.
“Mother-Child” is a rewarding watch, and it’s one of the most ‘real’ and precious pieces of documentary filmmaking that you will come across this year.”
Even though, the filmmakers’ intentions are clearly pro-choice, this isn’t to say that the film shoves its agenda into the viewer’s face. Instead, we see the valuable aspect of life, not just the mothers’ lives but their childrens’ lives too. Even though these women didn’t feel they had the option to terminate their pregnancy, and went through with giving birth, they don’t seem to hold onto any bitter resentment or regret. “Mother-Child” is just an honest and truthful depiction of the struggles and joys a woman feels as a mother.
It’s a shame that this documentary is so short because there’s more about these women and their lives that you would like to know. However, this merely a glimpse into their lives, a snapshot if you will. And, at times some viewers may be distressed by the details shared which are graphic and traumatic. Overall, “Mother-Child” is a rewarding watch, and it’s one of the most ‘real’ and precious pieces of documentary filmmaking that you will come across this year.