Culture  Family matters

Festival de Nouveau Cinema film offers mother-daughter malfunctioning and making-up

On October 14th, Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema presented Ingrid Veninger’s feature film i am a good person / i am a bad person. The movie follows the character and filmmaker Ruby White while she attends a tour of European film festivals with her daughter, Sara, who works as her assistant. Veninger depicts a mother and daughter deeply disengaged from one another, each searching to resolve their issues of family, and struggling to come to terms with one another.

Ruby seems disconnected, not only from her daughter, but also from her own emotions, and appears lost in her selfish desires. Meanwhile, feeling isolated and frustrated with her mother, Sara decides to take a trip to Paris by herself while her mother continues on her tour to Berlin. Ruby and Sara’s emotional disconnect is represented in their geographical distance, and this distance disables the cheery facade that everything is alright. In the climactic moment of the film, while Ruby waits alone in a bar in Berlin for her drink, a stranger laughingly, drunkenly, asks her, “Are you a good person? Or are you a bad person?” This question visibly shakes her, causing her to don a sign with the words “i am a good person” on one side, and “i am a bad person” on the other.

Ruby walks around Berlin wearing this sign, and, in an interesting montage, the viewer is presented with the voices and faces of many people struggling to answer this question, each presenting their own thoughts about what it is that designates a person as “good” or “bad.” Ruby and Sara both struggle with this question in the film – and Veninger asks the audience to contemplate the idea as well. What makes someone a “good person”? What makes someone a “bad person”? Can anyone really be defined that simply?
In the Q & A session following the screening of Veninger’s film, the director explained how the use of documentary-style filmmaking for a feature film was her desire to present a movie with “a heightened sense of life.” Veninger creates concentrated instances of feeling within the work, emphasizing the currents of connection and disconnection in ordinary, everyday moments. While the film was scripted, Veninger described to the audience that the small crew allowed beautiful, real, unscripted moments to occur, which were then included in the movie.

One moment was when Veninger, depicting Ruby, was wearing her sign at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and began walking around the square, chanting some of her fears. A German soldier, unaware that she was filming something (the camera was far away), approached her, told her that she was a good person, and then asked if he could hug her. Veninger agreed, and they hugged for a long moment. This poignant and meaningful part of the film illustrates Veninger’s examination of “good” or “bad,” emphasizing that everyone is capable of unprecedented kindness to a stranger.

i am a good person / i am a bad person examines the complicated nature of humanity, and recognizes that nothing can be simply characterized as “good” or “bad.” For Veninger, humanity is defined by the struggle to navigate this dichotomy and make connections with loved ones, despite the inevitable mistakes and flaws.