Chances are good that you grew up with your parents arguing, just as you may believe that this is the way to solve marital problems. These movies will make you think.
It’s been a few months since Christmas, so you probably still have vivid memories of arguments with relatives around the festive table. But heated conflicts can arise not only in the context of seeing people whom you feel obliged to see several times a year, but also in couples.
Sure, it’s much better to talk openly about your problems, but if the discussion doesn’t start with some logical arguments, the risk of degenerating into a shitshow is quite high.
Of the films I saw at the Berlin Film Festival this year , many feature families or couples where problems seem to have gotten completely out of control. Some characters fight with the belief that things will get better in the future, while others do it passionately, for a total exorcism. But what I understand from all these stories is that arguments can be extremely ineffective.
After all, art is about asking questions, not giving answers or solutions, so it’s up to you to see if you can learn anything from these films.
Mothers are monstrous in Portuguese director João Canijo’s film, a project composed of two feature films whose action takes place over the course of a day and function as mirror reflections, as the titles suggest: Mal Viver, Viver Mal .
The first film, Mal Viver, extremely claustrophobic, presents you with the tragedy of a dysfunctional family. It is about three generations of women: the matriarch Sara, the owner of the hotel, her daughter Piedade – a divorced, depressed woman who is good for nothing in her mother’s eyes – and her daughter, Salome, whom she abandoned, so she was raised by her father. Fear prevents all three from loving: the grandmother’s anxiety has ruined her daughter’s life, while the daughter’s anxiety will ruin her granddaughter’s life. A vicious circle with seemingly no solution.
The second film, Viver Mal, focuses on hotel guests and the triviality of everyday life. The two intersect due to the unit of time and space: you will notice that certain key sequences from the first film return in the second, but shot from a different perspective. Although the atmosphere is similar, the films are different in tone – the first is serious, very serious, while the second is light, funny, an almost ironic accompaniment to the ongoing drama of the first.
What is the action? Everyone is arguing, and that leads to either tragedy or comedy. As I told you, the quarrel between mothers and daughters is the fiercest, of a rare emotional cruelty. The film seems to say that there is no such thing as unconditional maternal love – the mothers in Canijo’s films are selfish, manipulative, their goal is to protect their interests or to apologize. Resentments are hardly masked by more tender gestures. A concrete exemplification of many psychological theories according to which parents and their style of raising children have a decisive impact on them.
But then there are also the arguments between the couple. In the second film, the couple formed by Camila, an Instagram influencer, and Jaime, her passive-aggressive husband tasked with posing for her, present a relationship in crisis. And here the suffering comes from a mother, more precisely from Jaime’s mother, who calls him dozens of times a day, sometimes even when the two are preparing to have sex.
Camila is exasperated by this invasive mother who created a weak, subservient, servile man. Probably because she despises her husband, she starts an affair with his best friend. After finding out, Jaime doesn’t know how to rebel other than by cheating on his partner right under her nose. A rather extreme form of marital rebellion, but that’s what repressive parenting regimes create.
If you want to deepen the theme with a domestic film, I recommend Poziția copilului , directed by Călin Peter Netzer, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2013.
At the peak of her career, the writer Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) met the famous Austrian playwright Max Frisch in Paris, with whom he fell in love. This moment is dramatized in the film Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert , which you should not miss, especially if you like biographical films.
Apparently, their love lasted until Ingeborg refused to make him something to eat. Just kidding, although there is a sequence in the film that suggests this was the reason for an argument between them. In fact, their love story seems destined to fail from the start, so incompatible are their personalities. Max has this intuition from the very beginning: “You’re going to make me miserable, but I’ll take that risk.”
The couple seems to be constantly negotiating their relationship, and the arguments are of restrained aggression. Jealousy torments Max deeply, who is unable to give Ingeborg the kind of affection she needs. In addition, at that time, a woman who refused the limitations of a classic marriage, in search of herself, but also of other lovers, was seen as an eccentric.
Ingeborg’s romantic gestures do not match Max’s expectations.
Ingeborg’s romantic gestures do not match Max’s expectations. Instead of waiting for him with dinner on the table, Ingeborg buys Max red roses, which he drinks that he got from a lover. When she wants to dance with him in a public space, Max suspects that she actually wants to be the center of attention and male gazes around them.
This is rather unfair, especially since in an earlier scene, Ingeborg takes Max to a famous tailor in Rome where he tries on a gorgeous suit, which turns the eyes of the ladies around him: “What a presentable man.” Instead of being jealous, Ingeborg seems very proud, which denotes self-confidence but also a certain emotional generosity.
Furthermore, despite his desire to have Ingeborg all to himself and not share her with others, Max actually writes about their married life in his secret notebook. Thus, they share it with the whole world and break the “pact” they made at the beginning. At one point, Ingeborg discovers his diary and throws it into the fire in revenge. Max is shocked, because with writers everything stops when it comes to their work, so he won’t forgive her.
Towards the end there is an interesting discussion between Ingeborg and one of her lovers. “Fascism is the first element in a relationship between a man and a woman,” she says, who actually regrets the painful end of her relationship with Max and confesses a desire to go back in time and do things differently.
“In movies, what happens between the walls of our homes is rarely portrayed realistically. And yet we spend most of our lives in our own homes. This is where we become the people we are and cultivate our most important relationships,” says director Tia Kuovo, who in her debut film talks about how hard it really is to have a happy family.
The family in Family Time is an average one – almost nothing really sets them apart. As every year, they gather at the Christmas table, with slow movements that indicate a chore rather than a festive moment. Family dialogue is mundane before it descends into an endless argument about the difference between butter and margarine, which ultimately functions as an excuse to discuss something else, especially when the real topics of discussion are ignored.
One of the important sequences, however, takes place after Christmas, in the family of one of the daughters, Susanna. She wants to have sex, but her husband, Risto, is caught with a sci-fi novel. She drops all kinds of hints while he pretends not to get caught and takes advantage of the ambiguity of the situation because he really doesn’t feel like it. Then there is a family dinner with the children where Susanna is very quiet and only makes eye contact with the children. After which she and Risto retreat to the garage, close the door, get into the car, exchange hesitant glances, like two strangers, and… silence.
It is clear that it is about their ritual, and the garage is the place where they retreat to “communicate”. Susanna breaks her silence and confesses that she felt rejected when Risto refused to “do something together” and didn’t even hug her when they said good night. The husband fires back and says he cleans the house, takes care of the kids, fixed her computer last Saturday, doesn’t that count? Okay, Susanna admits, but Risto never really listens to what she says. Risto gets angry: if he has so many flaws, why is he staying with him? But that’s not what I said, shouted Susanna, “you’re completely lacking in communication tactics, that’s why you get angry so quickly.” The argument escalates into more accusations and yelling in the garage, far from the eyes and ears of the children.
After this emotional discharge, the scene ends with an embrace between the two, in semi-darkness and silence. It’s by far the most effective couple fight of all the Berlinale films I’ve seen this year, although, ironically, it didn’t give me the impression that the two got along or that anything was resolved.
No wonder. Dr. John Gottman, a marriage and family counselor, believes that 69 percent of marital conflicts are never resolved. This means that most of us argue about the same topic endlessly, like the characters in the movies I told you about so far. And if you still can’t change or solve anything, at least art gives you a consolation that you are not alone.