The survival of the video store might be in jeopardy in a lot of places these days but the one in Cowansville, Quebec, is still going strong. Holiday time having arrived, I got a few recently but not from new arrivals but from the cheaper but still plentiful International section.
One of these, 2008’s Mama est chez le coiffeur (Mom’s at the Hairdresser), is by Léa Pool. Léa’s name has often appeared in The Gazette but I had never seen a film by her.
The movie starts slowly, and I almost gave up on it, but it became riveting soon enough. What was so powerful about it was the way in which it evoked the 1960’s and a decade’s worth of a very difficult childhood.
I sometimes have trouble watching films that are violent or bloody. It was strange that a film which portrayed a couple of dysfunctional families living in the countryside not far from Montreal should be so difficult to watch. I started squirming in my seat during some of the scenes: of parents fighting, of little children concealing themselves in secret hiding places in order to feel safe in their homes or outside, of people pushing down deeply-felt emotions.
My childhood wasn’t a happy one. There was a lot of fighting and loud words, even screaming, on an almost daily basis. If my mother raised her hand to straighten her hair, I might raise mine to protect myself, such was my built-in defense mechanism to being hit or slapped.
However, during my lifetime, I have tried hard to throw off the noxious effects of such an upbringing. I have gone into therapy many times; I grabbed onto meditation as a sixteen-year-old and have not let go ever since. Ask anyone, particularly my wife who knows me better than anyone, and they might say that I seem like a happy, well-adjusted person.
So it came as a shock to see my reactions to a very well-acted movie. It’s like thinking that some part of you is healed and cured, and finding out that with a little tugging and pulling and sniffing and looking closely, you discover that you are in fact still carrying the poison within you. Honestly, I was quite surprised.
“I’m having difficulty watching this,” I said softly to my wife.
I should add that what we were watching was not over-the-top. It was, if anything, in regard to the acting and plot, very realistic, and that is probably why I was reacting so viscerally.
“This was just like my house growing up,” I said a little bit later.
I often have “memories” like this popping up.
Just the other day, while driving to Granby, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I often experienced driving there as a substitute teacher, where I was occasionally employed at the many elementary schools located there. Which was, quite plainly, fear and panic. I rarely drove to any of the towns and villages where I taught not worried that I wouldn’t make it on time. Even when I did arrive early, I would be nervous thinking about the day ahead of me. It was a tough gig and I’m happy today to be doing something else in my life instead of teaching, in French, little ones, who for a morning, an afternoon or a whole day, would be without their regular teacher.
I haven’t been teaching for almost four years but the route to any number of towns will still evoke the awful feelings I had on many a morning getting to my teaching job.
So it was with this film which stirred up old crusty feelings which I thought I had thrown off in hundreds and thousands of intense meditations over the years.
“I would never have made a good father,” I said to my wife at another point in the film. “Especially to a son.”
This is something which I’ve said to Melanie a number of times over the years. Even today, if I should gaze at a mother or father in a supermarket with a young son, something is stirred, I’m not quite sure what, a deep stress, obviously.
I know what you’re thinking: Don’t give up on the therapist just yet. Which is good advice. An experience like last night’s is valuable in that it shows you what progress you still have to make in being a more integrated person.
A good film, if watched consciously and sensitively, like a good book, can be an effective mirror into the darker recesses of our soul.