Recently we blogged about making more of the Dutch film “Rewind”. The clip ended with the children writing a letter to the judge. Here is a clip that we showed before. Again it’s about letters – the mother’s to her distant children. This time we can give you the subtitles!
Below is a summary of the film’s story. This clip tells how Erica, the rejected mother, kept sending letters to her children. The children pleased their father by tearing the letters up in front of him. But 40 years later Frénk tells his mother that secretly they were pleased to get her letters.
Alienation and a cut-off
This short scene, with the disguised double meaning for the kids of getting and tearing up their mother’s letters, brilliantly encapsulates what Alienated children face. They have to juggle several responsibilities – to look after themselves, to dispense with their rejected parent while keeping that relationship somehow on a secret inner “mental shelf”, and meanwhile they have to prioritise their aligned parent’s needs.
Here’s a less than easy question. What word best describes the 40 years of distance between the parents themselves? Somehow ‘alienation’ doesn’t seem right for a tightly mutual, emotional, engaged, undisguised, known-about and evidently understandable cutting off from each other after the affair – a fair enough ‘good reason’ for doing it.
In contrast with their parents, the children were immature – though they behaved as if they were thinking clearly for themselves. The kids were actually under the influence of adults who were not able to do better in putting their welfare above their own feelings. The children had very limited capacity to think and choose for themselves.
Jan and Erica, the parents, were also under many powerful family influences around them, and emotions boiling inside them. Though they had no contact for 40 years, the film shows how they were even then still emotional and highly locked together from a distance. Their emotions even decades later can be seen as expressions of the love they had and could still have had if they could have worked it out better.
In a way Jan and Erica too were not really in charge of their mental state or choices when they separated. The film tells how they both considered suicide. But they definitely had and used their grown-up minds and choices in a way that somehow doesn’t go with the victimhood implied by the word Alienation, the word we do want to use for the children.
Rather than overuse ‘alienation’ let’s just call the separated parents something simpler like: ‘cut off’, ‘estranged’, ‘furious’ or ‘very upset with each other’.
The full story in brief
If you understand Dutch, watch the whole 55 minute TV documentary Verloren Band (or Lost Bond).
In the film, Frénk talks separately to his father and to his mother. Frénk’s parents divorced 40 years ago in a bitter way. He was 12 years old; his sister was 10. Influenced by the view that their mother was at fault for her affair, they wrote to the judge who determined that they stayed with their father. Alienated, they had no direct contact with their mother for ten years. But she kept writing letters to them. When his mum is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease Frenk realizes that this is the moment for a last attempt to reconcile his parents. The parents haven’t talked to each other in all those years. The video records Frénk’s last attempt of do-it-yourself family mediation. His parents surprisingly took part in making the film, but at the end it still seems like Jan was adamantly set against meeting Erica after the decades of cut-off.
Frénk’s father, Jan, was very much in love with Frénk’s mother, Erica, when they got married. Jan worked for his father, Dorus, boss of the family bulb transport business. Dorus was known as a dictator. He paid Jan 10 guilders a week when he would get 80 in any other firm. Dorus was very strict and harsh with his son. Jan wanted to quit but knew he would not see his mum any more if he did that. He adored her. Jan worked long hours. This was his way to show his love and devotion to his wife and children.
Erica said that Jan was married to his work. Erica was beautiful. Her father adored her. She didn’t get that kind of attention from Jan. Erica worked to earn enough for the family. She did love Jan, but she also fell for John, a workmate. John was lyrical and attentive in the way that Jan was not. Their affair led to Erica having to choose between the two men she loved. Choosing John meant that the children stayed with their father. Everyone was critical of Erica and the children followed suit. For ten years, the children did not have a good view of, nor any contact with, their mother.
Nick Child, Edinburgh