Two years after her directorial debut premiered at Cannes, Hafsia Herzi returns to the festival with Bonne Mère, a love letter to strong, nurturing women who are so rarely seen or appreciated amid their self-abandonment.

The audience is introduced to Nora (Sabrina Benhamed) as they follow her journey to work in silent detail. She cleans airplanes. Her colleagues are like family, full of well-meaning banter. Here, too, Nora’s voice isn’t necessarily the loudest – she is comfortable watching things play out. Over the course of the next days, she takes care of an elderly lady, picks up her grandson from school, pays a visit to the dentist. She is excited that she’s finally saved enough money for elective surgery, when she receives the news that there are still outstanding legal fees for her son’s lawyer, as he is currently in custody awaiting trial.

With these glimpses into Nora’s daily life, the observation of her calm, caring way of talking to people – even if her relationship to her daughter is fraught with problems – one immediately feels a profound affection for the woman. Some of her choices may not be reasonable, but they are comprehensible: she would do anything for her children.

There is immeasurable wisdom and strength in Benhamed’s eyes and the director cleverly seizes upon it: the film consists mainly of close-ups. With a single exception, the cast is comprised entirely of non-actors, adding texture and authenticity to a well-rounded family portrait. Had Herzi cast professionally trained actors to emulate residents of a housing estate, Bonne Mère could have easily fallen into the trap of “poverty porn”. As it is, there is no fetishisation or assessment, rather the work functions as a window into a particular world, yet it is not exclusive. It is a film that makes you want to call your own mother after the screening and thank her for all that she’s given up to raise you.

★★★★☆

Selina Sondermann

Bonne Mère does not have a UK release date set.

For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.

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