San Francisco Film Festival: The Good Life by Eva Mulvad

A beautifully-composed, moving and incredibly contained documentary which has the sheen and the pace of fiction. Eva Mulvad, who directed and filmed herself, is an able and intelligent filmmaker. It was an aesthetic, emotional and intellectual pleasure to watch the film and then to hear her speak of it afterward. Shot in bucolic Cascais, Portugal, The Good Life follows the Grey-Gardens-like existence of two Danish women, a mother and daughter, whose current impoverishment only sharpens their memory of their former status as upper class Danes. There is much to be said about the fractious, loving and dysfunctional relationship between the two women – it is so compelling that the filmmaker recently sold the stage rights to it. But I particularly noticed the way Ms. Mulvad uses mise-en-scene to visually amplify all things spoken and unspoken between the two women and to illustrate the rupture between past and present. Ms. Mulvad fills the screen with beautiful azulejos, the white wildness of the Atlantic Ocean, majestic peacocks, elegant red roof-tiles. One cannot help but make the parallel between the former colonial glory of Portugal and the formerly privileged life to which these two women became accustomed. The death of the colonial life, in effect, happened again in contemporary times, and in a domestic setting.

Earlier in the festival, Christine Vachon spoke about the industry difficulties of making female-centric films (no-one wants to make them), and I hope that Ms. Mulvad and others prove her wrong.

Also premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. In Danish, Portuguese, French and English.

The Good Life