TIFF Review: ‘Fanmi’ portrays sensitivity of complex mother-daughter relationship

OPINION: ‘Fanmi’ showcases the love that exists in complicated families, especially between a mother and her daughter

They say the relationship between a mother and daughter is one of the most complex there is. And Fanmi, from writer-director Carmine Pierre-Dufour and co-director Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers, portrays that so sensitively even within its taut 14-minute frame. 

The intimate French/Haitian Creole drama, as expected given the film’s length, doesn’t give you a whole lot of backstory. But where it lacks in time, it more than makes up for in heart. We don’t really know what Martine (Marie-Evelyne Lessard) does for a living, what her interests are, or even exactly where she lives (though it’s clear that she’s in a city). But we do know that at this moment in her life, her mother, Monique (Mireille Metellus) is in town, and it is a joyous occasion. 

(Credit: By-Pass Films)

At the beginning of the film, Martine picks up her mother from the station and a fond quietness settles between them. There seems to be many words left unsaid that only hover throughout their time together. We learn that Martine’s partner, Simon, has left her, through a funereal note revealed in passing.

So, there is a hint of mourning as she gets up in the morning and runs errands. Meanwhile, Monique says she has a birthday party to attend. But in actuality, the latter goes to a doctor to, hopefully, hear some good news. 

Monique has an unidentified illness, which strains their silence. But even while unveiling this solemn information to their audience, Pierre-Dufour and Brodeur-Desrosiers focus on the love between these two characters—and the strength that the mother, as per usual, embodies as a shield in the worst of times. Monique pretends she is less sick than she is when Martine tries to offer assistance.

“I feel better already,” she says, getting up out of bed with faux energy. 

Simply stated, Fanmi is precious. It plays with both its own length of time as well as the time left between its characters. There’s a fleeting moment between the two women where they are just sitting on a park bench wearing coats and scarves, taking in the crisp air, right before Monique decides it’s time for them to leave and grab some food. 

(Credit: By-Pass Films)

But the most heartfelt scene is when, still refusing to allow her daughter to see her vulnerable, Monique turns to her daughter and tells her a story about how she couldn’t make it to Haiti in time before her own mother died and ponders the lingering tension between them that was left unaddressed. She doesn’t say much else, and she doesn’t even open up about her own health.

She merely says to Martine, “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done.”  

These powerful words, uttered so beautifully by Metellus with an absolutely breathtaking and understated performance by Lessard, are the embodiment of all dialogue left unshared throughout the film. Metellus and Lessard play so wonderfully opposite each other that it’s hard not to also desire a feature-length film centering their journey. 

That’s largely a credit to Pierre-Dufour and Brodeur-Desrosiers, who take something as complicated as a mother and daughter’s relationship and chisels it down to 14 minutes that translate all that exists between them. And ultimately, they see each other, making Fanmi such a moving gem. 

Watch the trailer below.

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