April 27, 2005
Mother's Day, 2004
An idiosyncratically offbeat, indelibly unique, and narratively incapsulable fusion of social satire, nursery rhyme, musical fantasy, and interpretive dance, Mother's Day is based on an ancient Zimbabwean cautionary folktale of a young, impoverished family driven to famine by a lazy, selfish husband. When the mother, reduced to collecting insects for her children's dinner, refuses to allow her husband to partake in their meager meal until he can provide food for the table, the father leaves home and devises a means to exact revenge on his wife and, in the process, bring home his next meal. During the Q&A with filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga, a member of the audience had expressed trepidation over the film's plot with respect to how people - particularly Westerners - would receive such a barbaric depiction of Africans by Africans, commenting that the images, to some extent, seemed to prey on Western cultural stereotypes. (While I do not share the view that the film would necessarily reinforce racial stereotypes because of the obvious grotesqueness in the implementation and execution of the story, I can certainly understand this sense of apprehension.) Dangarembga responded that from her experience with previous international screenings, audiences who were familiar with the source of the ancient folktale have tended to find the innate humor in the absurdity of the story, while some members of the audience who were unfamiliar with the folktale expressed a similar ambivalence over the caricatured depiction. Rather than a specific view of a culture or a people, Dangarembga explained that she envisioned the film as a universal parable on greed and man's innate capacity for human cruelty. To this end, the primitive, atemporal empty landscape, stripped of identification, seems ideally suited to this eccentric, whimsical fable - demarcating, not the limits of the land, but the limits of the self and the limitlessness of human imagination.