THE news is that a trend continues: An increasing number of
responsible films are exposing and exploring problems of domestic
abuse and family troubles.
The latest examples are "Ladybird Ladybird," an English movie
now opening in American theaters after debuting at the New York
Film Festival, and "Heavenly Creatures," a New Zealand drama due
on United States screens next month.
The bad news is that Hollywood isn't playing much part in this
activity. In the main, American filmmakers take a superficial view
of family, exploiting domestic distress for its melodramatic value
but generally failing to probe the causes and consequences of
abusive behaviors in the home.
It may be argued that fuzziness and fantasy have always been
Hollywood's stock in trade, and they are to be expected even where
serious subjects are concerned. While this is true, it's an
attitude that gives us wish-fulfillment fabrications that suggest
social and historical forces will slip obediently into line if we
just think positively.
It's worth noting that "Heavenly Creatures" contains more
vivid fantasies than any scene in "Forrest Gump," yet manages to
examine key aspects of modern-day malaise with an honesty that puts
Gumpishness to shame.
"Ladybird Ladybird" is the most urgently relevant to current
social issues. This is especially true after the recent elections
in the US, which could lead to new attitudes regarding government's
role in helping disadvantaged people.
Based on actual events, "Ladybird Ladybird" centers on a woman
named Maggie who was the victim of physical and psychological abuse
during childhood, and has re-created this pattern by gravitating
toward abusive men in her adult life.
Now the mother of four children, she is forced to put all of
them into foster care after one is injured in a household accident
caused partly by her own negligence. She wants desperately to
regain custody of the youngsters, but finds herself thwarted by a
number of factors. These range from her continuing poverty to an
uncontainable rage that erupts at undiplomatic moments, such as
during interviews with social workers.
Matters are complicated further by Jorge, the new man in her
life - a gentle and compassionate fellow in all respects, but also
an illegal Paraguayan immigrant.
"Ladybird Ladybird" tackles this troubling tale with
documentary-style realism, showing profound sympathy with the
protagonists while dispassionately revealing the enormous divide
that exists between ideals of harmonious family life, on one hand,
and a network of inadequate social policies, on the other.
Watching the film is like being on an emotional roller coaster,
and the ride becomes almost overwhelming when Maggie's desperation
reaches such heights that she begins having new babies in order to
regain the active motherhood that society has taken away from her. …