Dir: Eva Mulvad. Denmark. 2010. 83mins
Eva Mulvad’s captivating documentary The Good Life is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of two women – an aging mother and daughter – who once lived the heady lifestyle of the super-rich, but now bicker and struggle to get by on Euro20 a week as they share a tiny apartment in Portugal’s costa del sol.
Eva Mulvad’s film is at times moving, funny, grim and sad, with these two Danes grimly stuck with each other in the bubble of their past lives.
As a Euro take on the Maysles brothers’ classic 1975 film Grey Gardens, it really does deliver in terms of charm and insight as these two women recall the glories of their younger days and fret over the realities of a life without money and position. The film had its world premiere at Copenhagen’s CPH: DOX festival, and screens at IDFA.
For 56 year-old Anne Mette Beckmann and her elderly mother Mette the lifestyle they once lived is impossible to forget – they reinforce this by sharing odd moments watching old video footage of themselves - but when the money dried up they had to exchange a large villa for a tiny pension. They came from Danish society, but can now only escape their bleak life by sipping red wine and reminiscing about the old days.
The film opens with Mette recalling their better years. “We were wealthy…not Onassis or Kennedy, but money was not an issue. Now we have nothing”. Moments later the camera focuses on grumpy Anne Mette plunging the toilet to try and clear the plumbing, crying out… “when I was young I lived like a princess – now I’m doing this!”
Elderly and frail Mette is the one who signs the cheques (the ones that don’t bounce) and who keeps an eye on their money, while Anne Mette goes to local discos by herself and still spends modest amount of money on herself, while also plaintively staring into shop windows and lusting after Tom Ford designer goodies.
As Anne Mette says at one point: “Work…the word is a taboo for me,” complaining to her mother that she was brought up not to work and that it is her fault that her life has been ruined. Grudgingly she goes to a job centre and has an interview with a local estate agent, but gets rather flustered when asked for her resume.
The pair have to try sell various items and trade a pointing for dentistry work, and when they finally manage to raise some money to get their battered car from a local garage, Anne Mette can only afford to put Euro2.11 worth of petrol to keep it running.
After a few drinks Anne Mette reverts to spoiled princess mode and bitterly complains about her lot in life to her mother, and equally when Mette is rushed to hospital (it’s a false alarm) she simply uses the time with the doctor to complain about her daughter.
Eva Mulvad’s film is at times moving, funny, grim and sad, with these two Danes grimly stuck with each other in the bubble of their past lives. The Good Life is a delightfully made documentary that should find a home with broadcasters and festivals, and might even receive theatrical outings in selected territories.
Production company: Danish Documentary Production, Danish Film Institute, TV2
Producer/sales contact: Sigrid Dyekjaer, Sigrid@danishdocumentary.com
Cinematography: Eva Mulvad, Sophia Olsson
Editor: Adam Nielsen
Music: Johann Johannsson