A Mother

By Natasha Ngaiza | Drama
A mother must come to terms with her decision to end an unexpected pregnancy.

In a small town, Agnes, already a mother of two, faces the choice of ending her pregnancy, a decision that leaves her feeling a set of difficult, conflicting emotions.

Her inner disquiet is mirrored by the disappearance of a little girl in her town, prompting protests over how law enforcement has handled the case. As the decision to move forward draws near, inner and outer worlds collide.

Written and directed by Natasha Ngaiza, this contemplative short drama begins with a striking, dreamlike image of a woman underwater as the color red plumes out around her. The visual is arresting, poetic and almost totemic in its richness and power, but then it shifts to a naturalistic sequence of the woman in a doctor’s office, where she receives instructions on her prescriptions, which will terminate her pregnancy. It’s a cold, brusque encounter, shot with slightly skewed framings that emphasize Agnes’ alienation, and much of the film follows how she processes both the personal consequences of her decision and the psychological complexities of being a Black mother.

She goes about her day as a mother caring for her young children and married to a supportive husband, captured in quiet, observational camerawork. But aspects of the initial dreaminess at the beginning of the film creep in, particularly in the almost impressionistic rhythm of the editing and the elongation of some shots. There’s also Agnes’ profound silence in her own life as she deals with the demands of childcare, which leave little space for her to grapple with her emotions.

Actor Cherie Celeste Malon brings an inner eloquence and complexity to a role with few words, toggling between the warm, assured manner of her mother role and the more melancholic one of her private self. It’s a thoughtful performance in a film that offers an exceptionally intimate perspective on the joys and anxieties of being a Black woman and mother.

As footage of the little girl’s disappearance seems to dominate the noise around Agnes, the two modes of the storytelling — one rooted in Agnes’ emotion and imagination, the other rooted in the society around her — converge, and the film takes an unusual turn into the realm of reverie, rooted in feeling and nature. When Agnes returns to her everyday, ordinary life, she moves forward, and despite her inner doubts and anxieties, gets on with the business of her life and responsibilities.

“A Mother” is a study in interiority, and the landscapes within us — ones that have their logic and rhythms outside ones imposed by the outside world. Yet those assumptions and expectations of the outer context inevitably exert pressure on our sense of identity, safety and security in the world. Throughout the film, Agnes’s experience is interwoven with the mother of the missing girl in an almost free-associative way, almost like two faces of the same experience reflecting upon one another. One is a public experience of shame and anger; the other is private and full of doubt and sorrow. Both return to the fierce loyalty and love of parenthood, picking up the mantle again and again.

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