Bitter Sea

By Fateme Ahmadi | Drama
An immigrant single mother hides her young daughter to keep her job and home in London.

Maria is a single mother who recently emigrated to London from Romania, where she escaped an abusive relationship. Now starting over in a new city with few resources, she must rebuild her life.

A few weeks since her arrival, she has found a new job and a place to live, giving her some hope and stability. But she lives in an apartment building run by a landlord who has a strict "no children" policy for his property. To hold onto her home, Maria must hide her child as best she can -- an increasingly perilous situation that puts everything at risk.

Written and directed by Fateme Ahmadi, this keenly observed short drama unfurls with the rhythms and textures of real life. Told with a graceful naturalism, it tracks a single mother's precarious situation, made all the more tenuous from her imperfect language skills, scant resources and the sole responsibility for her young daughter.

Maria is a fairly quiet character, both in dialogue and in expressiveness. But judging from her warmth and love as a mother, her silence is borne of fear and insecurity. She's intimidated and overwhelmed by having to work with no childcare; she's scared to lose her apartment, though it's not ideal for her situation. But she has little else right now, and therefore must hold onto what she does have.

It's an impossible situation, and as a result, Maria is forced to make compromising decisions, though she often has no choice. But it's a testament to the film's sensitive, empathetic writing and storytelling that we see Maria's actions as understandable, even if not ideal in any way.

That empathy extends to actor Ada Condeescu's grounded, sympathetic performance as Maria. She's a young woman escaping a harrowing past, far from home and alone with the enormous responsibility of providing for her daughter. But she's above all a loving mother, with tenderness and devotion weaved into every interaction with her daughter. Yet as her circumstances become more desperate and the chance of detection grows, Maria must take desperate measures -- ones that risk the life and home she's working so hard to create.

"Bitter Sea" is a social realist narrative that examines just how easy it is for those who have little to slip into a netherworld -- to make difficult decisions that have no good outcomes no matter which way is chosen, to have to keep silent when you need help the most, to hold onto whatever you can because the alternative is nothing at all. But it's also a portrait of a family and a parent, and the lengths someone will go to to keep a roof above their head and food on the table. When these most basic responsibilities are in danger, there's no telling what someone will do -- or how far they will go to hold onto what little they have.

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