Motherboard review: Portrait of single parent’s decades-long journey with her son is an absolute gem

Motherboard review: Portrait of single parent’s decades-long journey with her son is an absolute gem

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Remember Richard Linklater’s Boyhood– the coming-of-age story of a little boy filmed over 12 years? British director Victoria Mapplebeck takes the same concept into dizzying new heights in her new documentary Motherboard, which premiered at Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival. The comparison ends here, as Motherboard is very much its own beast: a single parent’s decades-long portrait of growing up with her own son Jim, that accumulates footage of home video, photographs, phone calls, hospital visits into something deeply compassionate and moving. (Also read: The Labour of Pain and Joy review: A revelatory and insightful look at childbirth practices)

Victoria Mapplebeck's Motherboard premiered at Cph:Docx.
Victoria Mapplebeck’s Motherboard premiered at Cph:Docx.

The premise

Victoria, who won a TV Bafta in 2019 for her smartphone-shot short film Missed Call, quits her job in television when she comes to know about her pregnancy. She chooses to film and document her life as a single mum, and from here on, over the course of the film’s 90-minute running time, Motherboard develops as an uncompromising portrait of a job that never has a flexible day off.

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We first see Jim as a tiny baby, clutching on to his mother with his little finger, and by the end, he will be stepping into adulthood. With a fiercely unsentimental gaze, this documentary charts the mundane moments in-between, between mother and son, as they share a life together in one apartment. Jim goes to school, makes friends and grow up in front of our eyes; just as the camera takes us through Victoria’s family through photographs. The difficult questions that Jim asks about this absent dad are presented with clinical precision, as the camera guides the need for space and interrogation of a child trying to know more. Whatever happens, it will make me sad, he says. You can’t help it.

Final thoughts

This line captures the essence of Motherboard, a film that flows in unprecedented directions without the rational mood board of direction. A sudden breast cancer diagnosis threatens to disrupt the familiarity of this journey. Yet the more you think this film will bend towards a specific direction, the more it surprises and uses the terrific wealth of footage in its favour. The standout here is the intelligent co-editing work by Mapplebeck and Oli Bauer. An unforgettable scene appears when the camera floats over Victoria’s head as she undergoes radiotherapy and the sounds travel elsewhere to locate Jim somewhere with her in that apartment. There’s another segment that carefully charts the tumultuous time between the two, where a phone call between Victoria and her mother reveals so much more than an elaborate confrontation could.

Motherboard understands the plurality of the experience of parenting; where one is never at one place or at one frame of perspective. There’s always something at the back of the mind. There are dreamscapes and quick exchanges; tears and full-circle moments; the years etched in the walls of the apartment that tell this expansive story of mother and son. With overlapping sounds, stylistic integration of certain images and references; shooting back to old recordings and circling back to certain habits that do not age, Motherboard develops into an extremely rich and sensory experience that covers an entire life in one full sweep. Its effect refuses to let go long after you’ve seen it. I came out of the movie feeling shaken and moved. It is something of a miracle.

Santanu Das is covering CPH: DOCX as part of the accredited press.

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