Argerich (Bloody Daughter) (PG) | Close-Up Film Review

Argerich (Bloody Daughter)

Dir. Stephanie Argerich, France/ Switzerland, 2012, 100 mins, in English and French with subtitles

Cast: Martha Argerich, Stephen Kovacevitch, Lyda Chen, Anne Dutoit

Winner of two awards at the 2013 Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming, Argerich is an intimate documentary centred on the relationship between film-maker Stephanie Argerich and her mother – renowned pianist Martha Argerich. Interweaving fly-on-the-wall footage shot over two decades with archive material, the film depicts the rise of Martha from upbringing in Peron’s Argentina to international prominence as one of the most revered classical pianists of the twentieth century, as well as digging into her often complex relationships with the rest of her family.

It’s a cast of characters of which the most ardent screwball aficionado would be proud – a mother who kissed her kids goodbye in the same order every time she went on tour and was highly distrustful of the schooling system; an estranged father (pianist and conductor Stephen Kovacevich) with whom Stephanie – now a mother herself – is still in the process of developing a faltering relationship; two half sisters (Lyda and Anne) by different fathers and a chain-smoking grandmother who kidnapped her oldest granddaughter and apparently never removed her sunglasses.

The likes of Wes Anderson could have turned the raw material into screwball gold, yet in the hands of Stephanie Argerich (the ‘bloody daughter’ of the title) the film takes on a personal tone – every character flaw and potential flash-point adding to the film’s humanity. Her unusual and bohemian family may be host to more skeletons than Highgate cemetery, but as each is unearthed it is dusted off with tenderness, understanding and an understated matter-of-factness that is refreshing to say the least.

As with the best documentaries, Argerich engages the viewer in a subject (in this case classical pianists) they didn’t know they were interested in, and the clips of a young raven-haired Martha Argerich in concert are particularly striking, but at heart this is a film about family and belonging. As with recent animated blockbusters Frozen and Brave it is in particular a film about strong family ties amongst women, yet you do not need to be a mother, a daughter or a sister to find it relatable; all you need is someone you love or have loved even if (just occasionally) they can be utterly infuriating.

A moving, honest and at times profound examination of the ties that bond us, Argerich is not just a very fine documentary but a very fine film.

Review by Jonathon Hopper

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