The Mothers’ House is a record of four years in the life of Miché, a charming, precocious yet troubled teenage girl growing into womanhood in post-Apartheid South Africa

Helle Jensen
I am a documentary filmdirector, and part of Spor Media

The Mother’s House

François Verster

South Africa 2006, 76 min.

Miché is a typical teenager, very straightforward and curious. She is a bright girl who wants to go to a good school. She lives with her mother and siblings in her mother’s house in the “coloured” township of Bonteheuwel, just outside Cape Town. She is part of the new generation of black South Africans who actually have the opportunity to get an education. Miché’s mother says that she never dreamed about getting an education when she was young; it was not an option for a black girl during apartheid.

mothers-house2Thus, Miché is fortunate, she does not have to live under suppression. The mother is unfortunate, as she never got an education. The fathers of her children left her, and she got HIV along the way. Her body is still well and fit, but her mind is not. She is frustrated and ashamed of her situation and takes out the frustrations on her family. This saddens Miché and makes her want to leave her mother. But she is still a child who needs her mother, just like her mother needs her own mother in turn. Miché’s grandmother is afraid she was too strict on Miché’s mother when she was young. The grandmother thinks that this has turned Miché’s mother into an angry person. Although each of the three women have their own struggles, the film is not just about their problems – far from it. It is about how life can be brutal and beautiful at the same time at different ages. It shows their fights, laughs, a birth, tears, a confirmation, a party, and their love for each other.

The ongoing theme in The Mother’s House is the situation of black South Africans after apartheid. Yet the film is not a political statement, but a story about Miché, her mother and her grandmother. The protagonists speak for themselves: the result is unsentimental and unpretentious. Rather than explaining, the director lets the audience observe and draw their own conclusions. A good example of this is a scene in which Miché’s mother and aunt tell the children about apartheid. They say that during apartheid, white people, coloured people and black people lived in separate places. Miché listens attentively, but she is confused: isn’t it still like this? Everybody laughs, followed by a cut to a new scene. This is how the director works his way through the story. As an onlooker, you do not feel the presence of the filmmaker and you do not feel manipulated in any way, which is a great quality of the piece. Once in a while there are small “breaks” between the scenes with visually poetic sketches from the neighbourhood: children playing, people grocery shopping, cars on the street, houses and flying birds.

The director, Francois Verster, is South African and white. He shot The Mother’s House over a period of four years, from the time Miché was 11 to 15 years old.

 


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