Sundance 2018: Loveling, by David Bax
Gustavo Pizzi’s Loveling is ultimately an astute portrait of motherhood. But even if it weren’t, it would more than justify its existence as an account of everyday low-income struggles. The family around which the film revolves are the type of people for whom the difference between $8.50 and $12.50 requires a phone call and discussion. When their front door breaks, effectively locking them in the house, they enter and exit via a ladder outside a window for the rest of the movie, presumably unable to afford a locksmith. And they take pleasure where they can find it, swimming in the ocean or celebrating a youth sports victory, even if Auntie has to do so while nursing a domestic violence bruise.
Irene (Karine Teles) is the mother of four boys. Her husband, Klaus (Otavio Muller), owns a failing print shop while Irene sells discount linens out of a van, working in her limited spare time to belatedly earn a high school diploma. When her sister, Sonia (Adriana Esteves) leaves her husband, she moves into Irene and Klaus’ already small home with her own son.
Loveling’s loose plot unfolds against two ticking clocks. Having passed her final exam, Irene looks forward to her graduation ceremony. On a more bittersweet note, her oldest son, Fernando (Konstantinos Sarris), has been recruited to play professional handball in Germany (this is real; I Googled it). He’ll be leaving just days after Irene graduates. With these two milestone changes on the horizon, Irene contemplates, in a terrific, emotional performance from Teles, how the life she has known is coming to an end, for better and for worse.
Pizzi accentuates Irene’s reflections with a handful of impressionistic flashes. It’s unclear (intentionally so) if they are dreams or memories but these moments—gliding in an inner tube with Fernando; roughhousing in a blanket fort with her young twins—are among the film’s most beautiful.
It will sound trite to try to sum up Loveling’s thesis: Being a mother is rewarding but don’t expect children to recognize their moms for all they do. You could boil it down to something pithy and stitch it on a throw pillow. But Pizzi and Teles make us feel everything deeply, from the swelling of pride for a child’s success to the rage-inducing indignity of being unappreciated. Loveling’s impact will stay with you long after that pillow has been worn out and discarded. So, hey, the movie is more cost effective, too!