Mama Evropa (Mama Europa) is a beautifully filmed 90-minute documentary examining contemporary Europe through the eyes of filmmaker Petra Seliškar‘s six-year-old daughter, Terra. More specifically, the film looks at some of the continent’s present day borders, something Terra, whose father is Cuban-Macedonian and mother is Slovenian, has already learned a bit about. And the premise works pretty well, too –at least for a while until the burden of carrying the film becomes too heavy for the little girl to bear.
The story is told over the course of a family trip through the former Yugoslavia –once a unified country that’s been carved into seven– and to Trieste, the northeastern Adriatic port city that has seen its border –or, at least its rulers– changed numerous times over the past century.
We meet and spend time with a small cast of characters who all have fascinating stories to share on how borders, both past and current, have impacted their lives. There’s Branko, a family friend whose life path can be traced all over the map of Tito’s Yugoslavia; there are the members of Bernays Propaganda, a punk band from Macedonia who meet bureaucracy head on whenever they organize a tour through the EU; and the noted writer Boris Pahor, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and member of the Slovenian minority community in Trieste who turned 100 this past August. It’s captivating stuff, very much worth listening to. I was very eager to hear more –and I could tell others in the audience were, too—but that opportunity never came. Instead, we get more shots with Terra.
To clarify: Terra is smart, insightful and incisive beyond her years. She’s funny, too. But she’s hardly a match for the historical insights a man like Pahor provides, or the more contemporary urgency Bernays Propaganda lead vocalist Kristina Gorovska articulates so well. I’ve seen people condescended to at borders, humiliated, and as Gorovska notes, routinely made to feel like criminals. And that’s just within the EU. Those stories –and there’s no shortage of them– are missing here.
Including Terra was a great idea, it’s just that the balance between the young girl and others wasn’t executed very well. By the start of the second half, the film takes on the feel of a home movie, albeit a brilliantly shot and edited one. Sixty minutes in, you get the impression that Terra has been forced to become the center of attention and the film, like the curious mind of a six-year-old, begins to drift in a different direction.
That said, I enjoyed it. (And I’m now one of Bernays Propaganda’s newest biggest fans.) It just wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I should have probably just checked my expectations at the door.
A trailer below, and below that, a catchy tune by Bernays Propaganda. Enjoy!