HIFF2020: All for My Mother (2019)

all for my mother

3.5 stars

All for My Mother (2019)

Narrative Feature/US Premiere
Director: Małgorzata Imielska
Screenwriter: Małgorzata Imielska
Cast: Zofia Domalik, Maria Sobocińska, Jowita Budnik

Premise: Olka is seventeen years old. For years, she had been looking for her mother. Her constant escapes from the orphanage landed her in a reformatory. She only wants her mother back.

All for My Mother, Małgorzata Imielska’s debut feature out of Poland, is largely comprised of hardships and trauma that befall the lead character Olka. Through her experience in a reformatory with other troubled teens who wish her harm, to a temporary stay with a couple who aren’t as warm and welcoming as they seem, Olka has one simple goal in mind: to reunite with her mother. That’s all she consciously desires, yet it’s not what she truly needs or yearns for beneath the surface. What Olka truly craves is acceptance and a sense of belonging. She is desperate for the stability of family and the journey she finds herself on makes for a heartbreaking and emotional ride. It’s a ride that includes frequent stops as the path she follows becomes more bleak and dour the further she goes.

Abandoned at a young age, Olka’s only memento of her mother is a home video recorded when she was very young. The camcorder is her most prized possession and the footage within it is simply of her running to her mother. This is her emotional anchor that keeps her hopeful that she’ll find a normal life with her mother someday. She channels that hope into training in long distance running with lofty aspirations. She believes that her mother will find her if she trains hard enough to run in the Olympics. Knowing that her trainer and the staff of the reformatory hide truth and doubt from Olka gives the audience its first of many heartbreaks to be found in All for My Mother.

The film can be a little abrasive at times. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it borders on misery porn in places. The trauma that befalls Olka is relentless, but as we follow her journey through the reformatory with its share of corruption and abuse, a certain level of resilience comes out. Although she never entertains the idea that her singular focus on finding her mother may not lead to the happy ending she imagines, the possibility of that outcome was constantly in the back of my mind as I watched this brutal and bleak film about a girl who will never give up on hope.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Nor is Olka’s hopeful outlook solely a vehicle for anxiety in the viewer. In fact, when the film is at its most brutal, the sliver of hope that keeps Olka going becomes a comfort blanket for the audience. Even though you can’t know for certain if the end of her story will give her any happiness or emotional pay off, seeing a character as determined and buoyant as Olka gives you a surprising amount of hope to wash away the anxiety and fear you have for the character.

Some sequences may be hard to watch and the emotional energy that the film depletes from its audience may prove to be too much for some. However, Olka’s difficult journey of self-discovery and overcoming trauma could also provide audiences with a light of hope and resolve they may not be expecting. All for My Mother may be bleak but it’s message of resilience through its protagonist is strong and, in the end, demonstrates that personal growth through inner strength is possible in even the darkest of times.

All For My Mother is screening virtually at the 29th Heartland Film Festival from Oct. 8-18.


About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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