A family portrait and a fly-on-the-wall bio-doc of a great pianist, Stéphanie Argerich’s Argerich – Bloody Daughter wraps itself up in maternal knots.
All About My Motherby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s perhaps a phenomenon of the digital age with its instagram account and myriad selfies, but ever since Jonathan Caouette’s 2003 Tarnation, there’s been a steady rise in autobio-docs, turning the camera not only on oneself (either narcissistically or out of a needs-must pragmatism), but also filming those nearest and dearest in the inescapable vicinity. There was Sarah Polley’s brilliant Stories We Tell, Markus Imhoof’s family story More Than Honey, Rich Peppiatt’s stunt-filled One Rogue Reporter, Liv Corfixen’s portrait of her husband My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and Trey Schults’ upcoming SXSW Grand Jury-winning Krisha. And now with Stéphanie Argerich’s debut feature Argerich – Bloody Daughter, the question becomes more pressing than ever – are these personal documentaries simply cashing in on famous relatives or do they offer new insight into our closest relationships?
An intimate portrait of the Argentinian-born pianist Martha Argerich, Argerich Bloody Daughter uses home-video footage, archive recordings and documentary interviews to build the personal story of the mother-of-three’s rise to fame, her unsuccessful marriages and her singular relationships with her daughters. Still touring the world to perform at the age of 70, Argerich is a formidable Chopin player who seems most at home in the world of music, away from the awkward difficulties of relationships and loneliness. But armed with a fifty-year habit of disseminating misinformation in order to gain an air of mystery and to ensure the public sphere doesn’t encroach too much on her private life, Argerich allows herself to be filmed from all angles with the indefatigable patience and understanding of a mother’s love.
Argerich – Bloody Daughter starts off well enough, with the director giving birth to her second son while her mother stands at her labour bed, coat on, bag in hand, ready to leave at any moment. And as the character of Martha Argerich slowly emerges, a trail of destruction is revealed, of failed marriages and abandoned children, each with different fathers. And yet as the director’s mother lets her daughter’s camera in, we become increasingly aware of the woman, with her free-spirited determination, fierce independence and the musical genius that shaped her life.
Argerich – Bloody Daughter isn’t just a bio-doc though, but Stéphanie Argerich sets out rather to examine the intricate and difficult layers of mother-daughter relationships – from a fascination with her mother as some kind of mystical being channelling some otherworldly musical power (and which carries on today in the lingering close-ups of Martha Argerich’s face and eyes) to a distant, ever changing and fiercely intelligent protector who prefers a sisterly relationship with her daughters – sometimes verbal, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, but never unanalysed.
Where the documentary comes apart though is in its conception, falling down between the two stools of bio-doc and autobiography – caught between a potted history of Martha Argerich (telling the story of her emigration from Argentina to Switzerland while peeking behind the curtains of her private life – a making-of with various tour engagements all over the world from Warsaw to Tokyo) and the filmmaker’s focus on herself, Argerich’s unattested and unsure relationship with her father and her own complex relationships with her parents. For the most part, Argerich – Bloody Daughter is filmed spontaneously and put together intuitively, with a looseness that underplays Stéphanie Argerich’s ideas about the complicated masochism of the mother-daughter relationship, but creating instead a tender portrait of an aloof woman made human before our very eyes.
Argerich – Bloody Daughter is released on 1st May 2015 in the UK