Poland 2016, 1h 20min
Val lives in Colombia’s Amazon region, so Claire brings the camera on a visit there. By recalling family memories, asking questions and telling truths that were never said, the films marks a moment of reconciliation between a mother and a daughter, and an attempt to redefine their bond. In every culture, a mother is expected to be selfless and put her children’s needs before her own. Yet, after her oldest daughter, Carolina, died in a natural disaster in 1985, Val decided to leave her children behind and travel deep into the Amazonian jungle. Moving from one place to another, never settling, she left Claire and her brother in a period when children need their mother the most, and instead followed her own identity search. The camera helps Claire look at this past through a narrative lens. But, in many ways, Amazona is more than a deeply personal story. As Claire follows her mother through her daily life, taking about the past, the camera reveals the character and story of an unapologetic woman who followed her instincts and heart. The film eventually raises universal questions about a mother’s responsibility, self-sacrifice and freedom.
Val’s story begins when she, aged 23 decides to leave Great Britain for Colombia to marry the man she loves. She recalls the moment of her departure, looking down from the plane realising that the city lights represent the only happiness she had known till then. Her decision to leave the comfort of the UK for an unknown exotic destination, sets the premises for the rest of her life. The marriage did not last, but the courage to leave her world behind for a new one marked the beginning of a lifetime of making unconventional choices. Claire explains her reasons for making the film from the outset. And, as the premise is set, one would expect an encounter with a distant self-centered mother, difficult to grasp and engage with. One would expect her on-camera behaviour to speak volumes for Claire’s traumas. Yet, Val is much more complex than that. Her simplicity and vulnerability are intriguing and, as the story unfolds, make the audience curious to understand who this woman really is and what made her hurt her children. Speaking Spanish with a thick British accent, she answers questions and recalls memories in a way that is meaningful and poetic.
‘Did you ever feel that your needs came before those of your children?’ asks Claire. ‘The most important thing about your life is your own life’ answers Val unapologetically, yet her love for her children surfaces through her words and memories. Just as she followed her loving heart to Colombia when she married her first husband, when Carolina died, Val saw no other option but to follow her broken heart deep into the jungle. Her priority was her own pain.
Now an aging woman, Val still lives a free life, away from the civilization. Her surroundings set much of the atmosphere of the film, with lush nature and the very simple hut she lives in. She eats fruits, swims in the river and does yoga in the morning. Unlike her children, she is at peace with her present and her past. Even though the premise of the film is Claire’s inner conflict, the underlying feeling of the entire film is love. The kind of love that is necessary for people in order to come to terms with their past, and to accept and empathise with what is eventually their life story. It is Claire’s love that enables her to allow her mother to be who she is, without projecting into her.
But, if Claire has the inner strength to face the past in order to live her life, her brother, who appears briefly in the film, was never able to recover emotionally from the abandon he felt when their mother left. He struggled with a prolonged drug addiction, and never got his life on the right track. Although genuinely preoccupied with this, Val does not feel this is something she should apologise for. ’You have to accept that you made mistakes’ Claire tells her. ‘Accept what? That my life was my life?’ she replies. There is no black and white conclusion to be drawn at the end of the film. That children should be taken care of is impossible to argue with. At the same time, Val’s honesty and courage to follow her heart is something that, to an extent, everyone idealises. Yet, living a life true to oneself often comes at a price, and in Val’s case the price was the emotional wellbeing of her children.
Through this contrast of freedom and harm, the film leaves space for personal soul searching in all of us. Was she an irresponsible mother? Was she a free-spirited woman? Whether we choose to side with one version of Val more than the other, she is eventually both of them at the same time. As mother and daughter embrace each other in the present, we see Val touching Claire’s pregnant belly and knitting a sweater for the baby. We see her as a woman looking into her future as a grandmother. Coming to terms with what has already past requires forgiveness, and looking towards a common future. Which is, nevertheless, very complicated.