An ambitious debut feature by writer-director Georgia Parris, Mari is a tender, intimate exploration of life and death, expressed through movement and dance. When choreographer Charlotte (Bobbi Jene Smith) discovers she is pregnant and that her grandmother Mari is dying, it turns her world upside down and makes her question her own mortality.
Charlotte’s relationship with her mother and sister (Phoebe Nicholls and Madeleine Worrall) becomes increasingly strained as they spend time together with Mari during her final moments, and this tension only adds to Charlotte’s emotional turmoil. Truths and lies surface and threaten the fragile family balance, and through this conflict, and her own internal struggles, Charlotte must find answers and meaning to continue on.
Using dance as the thread which binds the story together, Mari explores the relationship between bodies, texture, space, and light, to question how we deal with matters of life and death and the challenges we face trying to cope with existential and emotional pain. With renowned contemporary dancer Jene Smith shining as the lead, we’re drawn in by her suppressed angst and her delicate, yet powerful, use of movement to embody the intense feelings she is otherwise unable to communicate.
The interplay of dance and emotional expression is beautiful and often extremely moving. Maxine Doyle, highly regarded for her years of choreography and co-directing at British theatre company Punchdrunk, is clearly in her element choreographing for the film medium, and the solo pieces of Jene Smith, and also the group work, are both spectacular. Working in tandem with Doyle’s choreography is the evocative score by Peter Gregson, alongside haunting cinematography by Adam Scarth, and the combination of the three makes for a pleasurable, often dream-like, sensory viewing.
In parts, one feels there could have been more emphasis on a stronger linear narrative, and you want to see more of Charlotte’s world outside of the tense and grieving home life if only to provide further backstory to such an interesting character. That said, because this female-led dance-drama offers such a visual treat whilst providing an intimate exploration of mother and daughter relationships, it makes for an enjoyable, touching watch, and is a very impressive debut from Pariss and producer Emma Duffy.
Zoe Margolis | @girlonetrack