During a Latvian spa break, a mother and daughter spend time together alone for the very first time. The daughter is struck by how little they have to say to each other, how they are locked into separate worlds. Their exchanges consist mostly of the mother photographing the daughter in various poses, a common occurrence throughout the daughter’s life: She and her two sisters frequently sat for their mother and feature in many of her artistic productions. Following the silent spa break, the daughter, director Sara Broos, decided to make a documentary to get closer to her mum, the renowned Swedish painter, Karin Broos.
The film, Broos’ third feature-length documentary, comprises snippets from the director’s childhood, present-day interviews and family tableaux. It also features pictures and cuttings from the mother’s wild teenage years in Malmö in the ‘60s, a time when she experimented with drugs, suffered eating disorders and ‘sought male approval.’ Broos explains how she, as a child, would write letters to her mother’s paintings in a bid to understand why they were so unhappy. A documentary is, to a certain extent, comparable to a letter; both are created at a specific time and reach their recipients after a time leap which brings distance, but also room for contemplation.
In her documentary For You Naked (2012), Broos follows her godfather Lars Lerin in his attempt to find love with a Brazilian he met through a personals ad. Lerin, a renowned Swedish artist most noted for his water colour paintings, is besieged by social anxiety and an alcoholic past. However, in For You Naked, the director’s sole purpose is to offer encouraging support as the godfather battles his own thoughts and struggles to connect emotionally. There are some thematic similarities between these two films and the short documentary Homeland (2015) – about a female Syrian refugee’s passionate love for music. All three feature main characters who turn their gaze inwards to comprehend and cope with their lives.
At 17, Karin Broos wrote in her diary: “I am unable to do anything. I am lying in my bed waiting. For what – I don’t know. And then I eat. The whole room is empty, and so am I. […] And then this bloody body which is impossible to get rid of. It follows me everywhere.” From age 15 to 22, Karin lived through constant hell. Her daughter Sara also suffered from anorexia and bulimia as a teenager, which the mother failed to realise due to their differing lifestyles. Where the mother was extroverted and experimental, the daughter became introverted and brooding. Both, however, experienced self-loathing, shame and a negative perception of their identities. The daughter’s view of her mother reveals great admiration, coupled with a wish for a greater degree of symbiosis than the mother is able to extend.
Reflections bears closer resemblance to a picturesque self-portrait than a traditional documentary, or rather the director’s stylised attempt to understand herself. From a young age, Broos tried to emulate her mother by wearing bright red lipstick and black eyeliner. Some of the mother’s other characteristics also manifest themselves in the daughter, such as low self-confidence and a talent for expressing herself visually.
The mother’s love is most evident as she focuses on recreating her daughters in her paintings
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