Kristof Bilsen’s Mother: Sheff Doc Fest Review

Having previously impressed with his 2014 feature Elephant’s Dream, Kristof Bilsen’s latest picture, receiving its World Premiere at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, is an emotional and intimate look at motherhood, selflessness and sacrifice. 

Based primarily in a care home in Thailand, Mother is a character study of Pomm, a woman who spends her days looking after European sufferers of Alzheimer’s. She offers personal care around the clock, be it by cleaning, feeding or simply by comforting her patients or making them laugh. 

Kristof Bilsen’s film is brought to life by its particularly likeable central character. Pomm is a commendable woman with a clear passion and drive for her work, in spite of the many conflicts she faces in her own life. 

Pomm is dedicated to properly caring for her patients, regardless of the uncertainty offered by a lack of any permanent contract, and the fact that her work clearly gets in the way of her time with her own children, despite paying the very bills that keep them going. They live far away, and Pomm considers herself lucky if she sees them once a month, but this never gets in the way of her professionalism and time for those who rely on her the most. 

Bilsen recently said that he made documentaries because he felt they had the potential to ‘widen our perspective on the world we live in’. This is certainly what he’s achieved with Mother, which puts care-work in a far more global context than other pictures have managed before. 

Kristof Bilsen’s film poses many questions surrounding care in difference classes. The patients come from relatively wealthy families in Western countries, and it presents a stark contrast to Pomm’s life in Thailand. At one point, Pomm questions what would happen if she were to grow up with the same disease, deeming it likely that her own children would have to take on that responsibility. 

Despite the caring person that Pomm clearly is, it’s hard to recall a single time in the film in which anybody asks her how she is or how she has been. She struggles to even get time off work. Pomm is an admirably selfless person, sacrificing every minute of her life for others and receiving little in return. 

Where Mother most excels is in its continuity, as Bilsen cleverly weaves together two stories from opposite sides of the world, in a manner that feels in no-way random, but instead rather natural. We are taken to the mountains of Switzerland and introduced to Maya, who will soon be sent to Thailand by her family. Maya has people around who adore her, but they feel the most selfless thing they can do is ensure she receives the proper care that she needs, even if that means moving her thousands of miles away.

Kristof Bilsen’s film is heartfelt and genuinely uplifting for the majority of its run-time, but it’s upon Maya’s arrival in Thailand that it develops into more than that. Watching her family keep it together when the affection they show is not reciprocated is tough viewing. Its relatability places the viewer in their shoes, and it suddenly becomes a profoundly moving experience. 

Mother is an intimate portrayal of the selflessness of mothers in all their forms, as well as the tragedy of Alzheimer’s and the tough decisions families have to make in order to do right by their loved ones. While the film poses questions, it never judges or holds any position of its own. It’s simply an observational piece that proves effective as a result of the clear trust its subjects have placed in Bilsen, allowing him into their lives in his heartfelt attempt to find meaning. Bilsen is clearly passionate about the story he’s telling, and he deserves a lot of credit for sticking with everyone as things get tough, as opposed to cutting away at the expense of his story. 

The themes this film tackles have certainly been studied before but never quite in this fashion. Mother is a terrific piece of work with a unique take on an issue that we can all understand, with poignant and surprisingly touching messages layered throughout. 

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Dan is a freelance film critic who hopes to inspire people to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. He hopes to soon publish his first book and is a proud supporter of independent cinema.


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