If you’re a fan of films like Lady Bird, you might enjoy these films exploring parental figures and familial bonds screening at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). Of the 132 feature films being screened, 19 are all about the way maternal and paternal figures have approached parenthood or shaped the lives and identities of their children — regardless if they were present or not.
The festival opened up with the long-awaited Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton’s second directorial attempt (his first being Keeping the Faith in 2000), based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem. It’s set in 1950s New York and follows Lionel “Brooklyn” Essrog, a private detective orphaned as a child now living with Tourette syndrome, as he tries to solve the murder of his only friend, Frank (Bruce Willis). Lionel uses the few clues he was left with and the obsessive nature of his disorder to unravel the corruption of the city. Yet, the film doesn’t borrow much from the book — in fact, a majority of the film was reimagined by Norton after he began developing it in the early 2000s.
Next up on the U.S. roster is the highly anticipated Honey Boy written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el. Said to have served as “an act of cinematic therapy” for LaBeouf (he wrote the script as part of his rehabilitation program), the film is based on his experiences navigating his turbulent rise to stardom — from childhood actor to young adult landing himself in rehab — while trying to reconcile his relationship with his abusive father. LaBeouf stars as his father, while Noah Jupe plays the child version of LaBeouf and Lucas Hedges stars as the 20-something-year-old version of the actor.
Other films about paternal figures include Bulgaria’s The Father, a road movie about a father and son reconnecting on their way to meet a psychic who will help them contact their deceased matriarch. Similarly, there is Bellbird, an exploration of love and loss as a man and his father attempt to sustain their family farm after their matriarch passes away. The United Kingdom’s My Father and Me is a personal look into the relationship between documentarian Nick Broomfield (director of Kurt & Courtney) and his father. There is also Ringside, the portrait of two boxers and their fathers as they experience success in the ring and hardships outside of it.
Of the many short films that screened at CIFF, two focused on familial bonds including The Furniture Maker and Daddio (Casey Wilson), a comedy centering on a woman inviting her often embarrassing father over for the weekend.
There is a wide array of films exploring the complexities of motherhood, including A Thief’s Daughter, Alelí, Lara, I Was At Home, But…, Litigante, Sole and The Sleepwalkers. The issues within these films range from single motherhood to surrogacy to empty nesting but they don’t end there.
There’s also the Belgium documentary Mother, a portrait of an eldercare facility in Thailand where elders with Alzheimer’s are being treated by Thai caregivers. The film specifically follows
Pomm, a Thai woman who is dedicated to taking care of her patients but feels guilty for not being able to take care of her own mother or her children, and Maya, a Swiss grandmother who is dropped off at the facility by her family due to her early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Then there’s the coming of age film, Maternal, a story of three women living in a Buenos Aires “hogar” or a home for unmarried mothers operated by nuns. It’s a film that shows how the lives of three women who couldn’t be more different from each other –– one is a single mother who desires freedom, the other a teen mother who finds solace with her job as a mom and being confined within the institution, and the third is a practicing nun who is about to take her vows into the vocation but develops an attachment to an abandoned infant–– intersect in unexpected ways.
There couldn’t be films about Indigenous familial affairs without the exploration of uprooting. In Guatemala’s Our Mothers, forensic anthropologist Ernesto attempts to identify victims of the Guatemalan Civil War while simultaneously trying to uncover his own roots. In Brazil’s The Fever, security guard Justino falls ill as his daughter prepares to leave for college, remaining caught between his tribal land and modern-day Brazil.
Regardless of plot or story, all these films offer a look into the different perspectives of parenthood across cultures, reminding us that no experience is universal.
Header image from the Chicago International Film Festival