In Mari, protagonist Charlotte stays in a haunted house – one inhabited not by a ghost, which is an echo of death, but rather by the process of death itself, in a frank domestic context. As her grandmother, Mari, lies dying in a Dorset hospital, ambitious dancer Charlotte (Bobbi Jene Smith) finds herself in the old woman’s home, reunited with her estranged relatives as they calmly prepare for the inevitable.
During the ordeal, emotions naturally stem from the homely rituals of grief and acceptance. Mari’s possessions are studied, her secrets and ambitions revealed and warm memories of her are conjured by the pensively quiet family, whose relationship to the troubled Charlotte is both strained and healed by the devastating matter at hand.
Mari’s themes of sorrow, nostalgia, regret and contentment are unmistakable. The film’s succinct grasp of death’s natural role in family life is original and evocative, partially due to a naturalistic style and locations that exude a haunting yet simultaneously calming feel – a nice tonal encapsulation for the painful and liberating sides of loss.
Messages and atmosphere are infallible, but director Georgia Parris’s intentions are misguidedly based around a character piece. Despite an interesting, almost Chekhovian situation (a mother and two sisters), younger sister Charlotte is singled out as the important one. The insistent focus on her personal life invades on some interesting shifts in the family dynamic, to the point where a climactic sibling brawl feels disappointingly unearned.
As the grandmother wastes away, so does the momentum. Narrative threads are strongly established but remain on a straight track. Parris’s minimalist approach to filmmaking is haunting in a technical sense (camerawork, sound design etc), but a lack of story twist in the latter half prevents much escalation; it maintains but rarely commands our attention.
Much acclaim has been fixated on the elaborate dance scenes, where hand-held camerawork and avant-garde music are purposely designed to contrast from Dorset’s solemn, locked-down world. In their own right, these sequences are impressive, but they betray rather than mesh with the movie’s more grounded diegesis (a particular dream sequence looks like it came from another film altogether).
Ultimately, Mari has got it where it counts. Lacking in some areas but excelling in others, the feature’s wellspring of varied and soulful emotions will resonate with anyone who has one shred of life experience.
Mari is released in select cinemas on 21st June 2019.
Watch the trailer for Mari here: