Film festivals do many good things. But one of the best is bringing to light documentaries that may never be seen otherwise. One of the best films I ever saw at Sundance was a humanistic doc about Chechnya that was never released outside of festivals in 2007, and still has yet to see DVD or Netflix.
SFIFF has done a good job of selecting worthy documentaries, and Eva Mulvad’s The Good Life seems to be one of the better ones. It’s being described as a new Gray Gardens but it’s important to note that the impoverished mother and daughter in The Good Life are not mentally ill. They are completely sane.
Annemette and Mette Beckmann are Danish ex-patriots living in Portugal in a tiny apartment, living only on Annemette’s (the mother’s) tiny pension. Years ago, they were extremely wealthy and lived a life of luxury that completely unprepared Mette (now in her fifties) for any sort of responsibility. “Work is still taboo for me… I’d rather die than work.” Mette is so unashamed of the fact she steals her mother’s pension to buy things like earrings. She doesn’t deny it when confronted and actually gets angry her mother isn’t providing for her better.
There’s a humor between the odd couple that they’re not aware of. As they have heated exchanges, or even normal ones, it’s almost like an SNL skit, without the slapstick. Mulvad used several home movies and photos of the two of much better times–relaxing in Paris or luxury hotel suites, soaking up the sun on beaches. The light mood established in the film’s opening act slowly and gracefully evolves into one of sadness. These two have damaged each other. Mette’s anger that her mother neither prepared her for a financially normal life, nor has the ability to continue the type of life she was used to is somewhat justified. Justified in that she wasn’t raised properly to deal with life. Annemette doesn’t have a choice but to take Mette’s verbal assaults (sometimes exacerbated by wine) since she’s created this monster.
A more complete story unravels and we find out Annemette’s husband never really made any money, but coasted off the fortune of his father. He passed away years ago and Mette explains it was because of their bankruptcy. Annemette has a few candid moments on screen where her desperation is obvious, she’s scared of what will happen when she–and her pension– are gone.
The Good Life is a lovely film. It’s relevancy in today’s economic situation and job market is enough to strike just a little bit of fear in anyone. If it can happen to the super rich, it could happen to anyone. But then again that’s not the point of The Good Life.
Confident, strong directing makes for a fascinating, moving and touching film.