By Kate Graham | Drama
A single mother struggles to come to terms with her teenage daughter's love of rugby league.

Young teenager Jodie is passionate about playing rugby, exhibiting a ferocious competitive drive in an already aggressive sport. But her single mother, Michelle, doesn’t quite understand Jodie’s passion and is often shocked by how Jodie is so different from her.

When Jodie’s face gets cut up during a brutal match, Michelle wants Jodie to stop playing, saying she’ll regret injuring herself even more down the line. But Jodie refuses, opening up a wider gulf in an already tenuous mother-daughter relationship.

Written and directed by Kate Graham and produced by Margot Douglas, this short drama leans on its hypnotic visuals and sound to evoke the growing distance between a mother and daughter, giving shape and texture to how strange and foreign they are to one another. Opening with a series of slow-motion shots of the girls playing, the sequence evokes the savage physicality of the game. And it ends with a pair of riveting shots of the main characters: Jodie, muddied and bloodied, looking feral and fierce; and Michelle, a strange visual juxtaposition in her pale blue satin dress and bright blonde hair, standing in the rain and shocked at her daughter’s appearance.

The images themselves are riveting, with muted, rain-soaked naturalistic colors with pops of faded glamour and comfort, capturing the unique setting of Leeds, the city they live in. But their framing and rhythm create a disconnected feeling, as shots don’t quite fit seamlessly from one to the next. Coupled with an atonal musical score, it mirrors the psychological disjointedness between mother and daughter, who seem to exist in two different planes. The film doesn’t just capture estrangement — it feels estranged itself, like the disquieting dream that forms the center point of the story.

Within this uneasy psychological atmosphere, Michelle and Jodie face off in an emotionally bruising confrontation. Actors Kelli Hollis as Michelle and Emma Wrightson as Jodie have a believable prickliness as a parent and young teenager who has little in common, and Wrightson in particularly has a commanding, almost feral power that’s riveting in a young woman. Next to her, Michelle is more traditional, softer and perhaps conventional. But she is also a mother, and as she offers advice to a pregnant client at her job as a hairdresser, Hollis’s performance gently surfaces an understanding and clarity about Michelle’s role in her daughter’s life.

From this insight, “Scrum” unfurls itself into a different direction, and the earlier atmosphere of disquiet and tension shape-shifts into a gritty tenderness. Michelle gives voice to her former hope that her daughter would have more in common with her, and she comes to some peace that Jodie is her own person, with much to admire and be inspired by. Michelle carries that insight into her interaction with Jodie, and mother and daughter find their love for one another again.

It’s a genuinely sweet ending to a story that begins in a markedly different way, with both halves of the film demonstrating a sharp intelligence and an unerring eye for the striking, poetic image. It’s also a huge relief for a parent and daughter who seemed poised for a catastrophic break, but pulled themselves back from the precipice with a mother’s generous understanding.

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