A body yearns for expression; to embody its unique language. In Mari, film work and dance work blend seamlessly to explore the limits of being a daughter, a sibling, and a rival, and the decision whether to become a mother. Mari herself traverses the distance between the meaning-filled stillness of dying and the noisy exuberance of being keenly alive and young and on the cusp of… everything.
Mari is seamless, but does not remain in one place. Shifting from the almost intolerable claustrophobia of the family home to the wide-open bloom-filled dreamscape of the empty stage, Mari alters between confinement and freedom, alienation and belonging. Superbly played by actor-dancer Bobbi Jene Smith, Mari is on the verge of the debut that will lift her from dance company member to director. But the impending death of her grandmother shears across Mari’s trajectory as only the merciless schedule of the dying can. Her almost simultaneous discovery that she’s pregnant means Mari must somehow encompass the imminence of death and the implications of the not-yet-born. Mari strives to make meaning through movement that fights its way out, seeking release and ultimately blossoming through the body.
It’s not always comfortable to watch. Director Georgia Parris’s spare script and intimate direction will elicit visceral reactions from any viewer ever cooped up too long or too tightly in the outgrown family home. Age-old unresolved arguments carried out sotto voce, if voiced at all, simmer just underneath the surface, noxiously bubbling up at the least convenient moments. At any time, returning to those who know us the best and often the least can be a delicate balancing act. Doing so while negotiating where the ragged edges of life and death, ambition and devotion come together can feel like crossing an invisible morass via an unsteady rope bridge. One misstep and it can all go unforgivably wrong, and families never forget.
But like Mari’s sometimes constricted, sometimes liberated movements, Mari itself remains beautiful as frustration, hope, confidence and fear meld into a dramatic language that goes beyond even the capacity of words. Where silence is a presence and, at times, wielded like a weapon, in Mari, movement creates a language of its own.
Mari has its US Premiere July 15 at the Dance on Camera Festival 2019 at Lincoln Center. Mari, distributed by Verve Pictures, is currently in theatres and is available to stream on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema. Follow Mari on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the film’s website, and follow Georgia Parris on Twitter, Vimeo, and her website.