26 September 2023

Mother Mountain

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Writer/director: Celina Stang, Slinki Productions Film.

A movie where two cultures meet, this family drama is engrossing. Regional Australia (filmed around Narooma, Tilba and Bermagui on Yuin Country) forms the scenic backdrop to an interwoven narrative of suffering.

The film is about a young, restless mother who moves with her family from the city to an idyllic country property at the base of a mystical and sacred Aboriginal mountain (Gulaga or ‘Mother Mountain’) with the hope of starting a new life. Still haunted by a marriage break-up and a strained relationship with her parents, she struggles to find a meaningful connection with her new partner. When her daughter is bullied at the local school, an Indigenous boy comes to her aid and opens her eyes to the magic of the mountain and its bucolic surrounds, while the mother reconnects with her Jewish spirituality for guidance.

The conflict is generational between protagonist Selene (played by Emilie Cocquerel, The New Legends of Monkey, Letter For the King); her controlling mother Linda (Anne-Louise Lambert, Picnic at Hanging Rock); and strong-willed daughter Shani (Willow Speers). It’s connected to a yearning for freedom and for home, a hankering that is as fundamentally tied to their Jewish heritage as it is to their need for independence.

A after a bullying incident at their school, Shani and her friend, Ren, an Aboriginal young man played by actor Jarrah Finnerman (making his acting debut), form a special friendship. Ren’s family are strong Yuin people who are firm in their culture. His father Jonah (played by Damion Hunter) and mother Mary (played by Angela Penrith) meet Shani and her Jewish family and realise they all have much in common culturally, however differently.

Selene’s husband Dean is played by actor Fayssal Bazzi (Stateless, Measure for Measure), who is confused, yet supports his wife as she navigates through her personal journey to find the answers she is seeking. Pip Miller (Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Sliding Doors) plays the grandfather Leonard Schwartz.

This is a deeply personal story for writer/director Celina Stang. The screenplay was born out of personal intrigue around the emotional scars and profound impacts on interpersonal and intergenerational relationships flowing from historical genocide, in this case the horrific tragedy suffered by European Jewry during The Holocaust.

A captivating exploration of family and identity, Mother Mountain — which had its world premiere at the 2022 Jewish International Film Festival — won the Best Narrative Feature Film category at the Cannes World Film Festival in October 2021.

  • Mother Mountain releases nationally on 28 April

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