While it can be frustrating to see female characters defined by their reproductive capabilities and adherence to societal norms, some of cinema’s most complex and memorable women have been mothers. That’s certainly the case in Laura Bispuri’s Daughter of Mine, a deeply felt study of motherhood focused on a young Sardinian girl torn between the affections of two women.
Ten-year-old Vittoria (Sara Casu) is a shy and awkward girl. Despite living with a loving mother (Tina, played by Valeria Golino) who dotes on her endlessly, there’s something eating away at her. She often describes herself as “ugly” or “stupid”, but where does this low self-esteem come from? Perhaps, it could be Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), the town’s local party girl who, after finding herself forced into leaving town after accruing a substantial debt, starts to think back to the young child she gave away. Once Vittoria discovers that Angelica is in fact her biological mother – handed over to Tina as part of a secret pact – the pair begin to spend more time together. Tina isn’t happy about this, but her attempts to bribe Angelica fall on deaf ears, with Vittoria quickly finding herself used as a pawn in an emotional power struggle between both women.
On-screen mothers often come in familiar flavours: put-upon single mothers, saintly housewives; or women driven mad by the expectations of motherhood. By telling her story from the perspective of all three women, Bispuri takes all these ingredients and plunges them into a cauldron of messy emotions, with the interactions between the characters often overflowing with a mixture of euphoria and sadness. Thankfully Bispuri conveys her protagonists’ emotional struggles with remarkable tact and insight, weaving all this chaos into the choppy rhythms of their lives as they each attempt to accept their imperfections and grow.
The constant rumbling of conflict means these performances buzz with a subtle power. Casu is a delight and a heartbreak as Vittoria,who constantly looks like she’s on the brink of tears, whilst Golino beautifully embodying the internal rage of a devoted mother trying to ignore her petty jealousies and fear of abandonment. However, it’s Rohrwacher, who steals the show; an explosive, magnetic presence, constantly dictated by a maelstrom of wild, uncontrollable emotions.
Gorgeously shot by Vladan Radovic, almost exclusively on handheld cameras, each interaction fizzes with human vitality, whilst the island’s granular textures have a tactile feel resulting in a film so vibrant and alive it’s as if you could reach out and touch it. A bold and colourful, but by no means superficial portrait of femininity, Daughter of Mine successfully embodies a set of ideas – and anxieties – about motherhood that eloquently reflect a contemporary need to reevaluate the traditional family unit.
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Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble