Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Disappearance of My Mother’

Hot Docs 2019

Courtesy of Hot Docs

The Disappearance of My Mother
(Italy, 95 min.)
Dir. Beniamino Barrese
Programme: Made in Italy (Canadian Premiere)

It would be easy to dismiss ahead of time Beniamino Barrese’s portrayal of his mother, the iconic model and activist Benedetta Barzini, as a strangely oedipal fascination that lacks any outward perspective. Yet we’re instead treated to a unique look at a subject who, for very compelling reasons, is reticent to have cameras pointed at her, aware like few others of the power of the lens to manipulate and obfuscate in equal measure.

Barzini’s story is in itself fascinating – far more than a puppet to be played by photographers, her astute political views and continued role in educating young people about the insidious power of imagery is itself extremely compelling. When a woman whose career has been firmly in the spotlight admits to wanting to leave, to be rid of being seen any longer, the film takes on its most poignant angle, especially with respect to a son who has spent most of his life filming his mother in some quest to get to the heart of their relationship.

The film works best when the tensions between son and mother evoke the same sensations that exist within Barzini’s wish to parade on the runway and run away forever from sight. The Disappearance of My Mother is a warm look at a fascinating character, but more than that, it’s a film that consistently interrogates its entire reason for being and consistently buts up against a subject’s desire to no longer be an object of focus. It’s compelling as a film about a mother’s desire to help her son with his project at illuminating his mother’s remarkable contributions to culture.

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