16 May 2010 | PipsHeritage
The different forms and faces of emotional neglect
Mères et Filles is a brilliantly-accurate study of how the consequences of emotional neglect, and emotional abuse, shows up differently in different personalities: one becomes harsh, mean and bitter, even to their own flesh and blood, and another becomes more or less a shadow of herself, almost wanting to disappear, unable to attach to anyone, preferring an old maid's life and the clothing-style to go with it (which signals "Leave me be; I'm quite content being a grey mouse; it makes me feel safe"). Marina Hands (brilliant, introverted yet intense, multi-layered acting) even got the body language down perfectly: the way Audrey walks is with a posture of a dog beaten one too many times too often. She walks and acts like she wants to be invisible, so people leave her alone. Even the tone of her voice tells the damage done: she speaks with the soft, shy, insecure tone of a little girl. (A development which you can even see in abandoned animals. Like I see in my 6-year old cat who was rejected by his mother and siblings and still produces a kitten-like meow, looks with his big, surprised eyes into the world, quite on his guard one time and lovey-dovey-kissy-kissy the next.) When you see how the mother, Martine (brilliantly portrayed by Catherine Deneuve) treats her daughter, you understand. Audrey didn't develop fully emotionally because all her energy went into trying to survive her mother's constant insensitive comments on everything she does and says. It costs a lot of energy to try not to get affected by the constant bullying and rejection of someone who should love you for who you are and give you the stable, inspiring and calm space to develop your own, unique identity. The mother thinks, with her merciless treatment of her daughter, to prepare and toughen her up for the big, bad world out there, but creates with that insensitive attitude quite the opposite: the daughter becomes a scared, commitment-phobic, frightened little mouse with only her work to cling on to. You see it so often in people who were emotionally and physically abused: the person they could have become has been murdered; They have become but a shadow of themselves. And more sensitive to future hurt than harnessed for it. (Only a good safety net in the form of a loving home environment can harness you against future damage.) It is so incredibly sad. I never thought it to be so universal: The well-dressed and -coiffed but icy, snappy mother and the sober, almost frumpish-dressed daughter who moves and talks like on constant egg-shells (we also saw that image in Ingmar Bergman's "Autumn Sonata"). It's too bad there is not a book about this story, because I would want to read more about the details in the development of the personalities of the three women. I think there is so much to say about the decorum people sub-consciously choose, how their body language came about, the tone in their voice and their interactions with other people. Maybe Sophie Hiet could still write one?