The relationship between a mother and her daughter evolves as the teenager recovers from cancer
Dir: Sine Skibsholt. Denmark. 2020. 79mins
A fraught mother/daughter relationship is intensified by the daughter’s lengthy treatments for cancer in Long Live Love, Sine Skibsholt’s raw, involving documentary which strives for the emotional reckoning of a John Cassavetes drama. Making its debut in CPH:DOX online festival, the film’s combination of tough subject matter and an impressionistic approach suggests it is most likely to make a mark on streaming services, especially those attracting a younger demographic.
The kind of documentary that makes you question the mechanics and ethics of the form
Danish teenager Rosemarie has faced a lot in her young life. She was just four when her cancer was first diagnosed and, over more than a decade, she has endured chemotherapy, operations and the suffocating burden of other people’s well-intentioned concern. Mother Katrine has watched her grow into a young woman with a constant fear that she could die.
In some respects the relationship between them is characteristic of that between many a mother and a daughter on the cusp of adulthood. Rosemarie is stroppy, exasperated and prone to lash out. Her claim that nobody understands what she is going through is made more valid by the cancer treatments. The two argue, exchanging words that sting, and face silences that speak volumes. The similarities in their personality and the youthfulness of Katrine make them appear like siblings.
Skibsholt keeps her camera up close and personal through everything that transpires. She doesn’t flinch from the pain that Rosemarie endures, or the sense of despair that it may never end. She observes and never judges, capturing moments in which neither of them appear especially sympathetic. There are also flashes of dark wit from Rosemarie. A wall chart in hospital asks for her plans for the future. She writes “getting better”. Questions for the ward elicits the response: “Why is everything here so boring?”.
Broken into chapter headings that serve as diary entries (‘Bad Day’, ‘Shit Day’, ‘Family Day” etc), the film sketches in a little of the family background. Rosemarie’s younger brother Salomon is a minor figure and mild-mannered dad Anders is always on the sidelines. but Skibsholt remains very much focused on the two women. And this central relationship grows more interesting as Rosemarie starts to recover. She wants to embrace the normality of school friends, teenage rebellion, nights out, flirting with boys, climate change protests and more. Meanwhile, as Rosemarie figures out who she is and what she wants, an emotionally exhausted Katrine sinks into a depression. Rosemarie wants to move on with life, Katrine cannot let go of the past.
Skibsholt captures the changing dynamic of the relationship as a mixture of therapy and confessional. It is the kind of documentary that makes you question the mechanics and ethics of the form. How can someone become so immersed in the daily lives of a family that the camera becomes almost invisible? How can a filmmaker maintain a professional objectivity as they witness acute personal hardship? There are days in hospital when Rosemarie requests that the filming is stopped.
The amount of time spent with the family is rewarded with a film of emotional complexity and a story arc that concludes with the hope of fresh beginnings and glimmers of light at the end of a dark tunnel.
Production company: Made In Denmark
International sales: DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) kim@drsales
Producer: Helle Faber
Editing: Rebekka Lonqvist
Cinematography: Sine Skibsholt, Ina Lingreen
Music: Martin Dirkov