Category Archive for: ‘Michael Ferguson’

Bloody Daughter — Film Review

Bloody Daughter

A Film by Stephanie Argerich



The title of this film is misleading.  It suggests either abuse or extreme hardship or menstruation, but none of these play out in the film.  While ninety percent of the film focuses on Stephanie Argerich’s mother, the renowned pianist, Martha Argerich, the title comes from her father, Stephen Kovacevich, himself a pianist of the first order, and seems to refer to the roughness in Stephanie’s relationship with him.  He offers an explanation of the term ‘bloody daughter,’ which doesn’t quite make sense, and seems to reflect confusion and misunderstanding.  The term ‘bloody’ is a British expletive of disputed origins which is used as an intensifier, similar to the way we use ‘damn’ in the United States, or a less savory word that is much rougher and cruder.  It doesn’t really fit well with the content of this film.  I wish they had been able to dream up a different title.

But the film is outstanding.  It is a disarmingly intimate portrait of a very unusual family of remarkably talented people.   It is classified as a documentary, but it is actually a personal journal, rather than an attempt to construct an organized narrative of the facts.  There are very intimate scenes throughout this film.  Things one would not ordinarily include in a documentary.   A sequence of Martha waking up in bed in the morning and sipping her coffee at her bedside.  A tense scene between Stephanie and her father doing paperwork to obtain his official acknowledgement of Stephanie as his daughter.  Kovacevich has stalled and dragged his feet on this matter for thirty-four years.  No explanation of what that is about.  An outdoor scene of Martha and her three daughters painting their toenails and discussing their lives in a park.  Martha is on camera through most of the film.  Stephanie is intently preoccupied with her mother.  There are many close ups of her mother’s face and eyes, as if she is trying to incorporate her mother or understand her mother through the camera.

While there is a lot of conflict and tension within this family, there is also great warmth and strong personal bonds.  I wouldn’t call this a dysfunctional family at all.  The members are engaged with one another, there is good communication between them, and there seems to be a lot of basic good will among them, despite some friction and misunderstanding.   They are a family that introspects more than is common in the United States, I would judge.  They seem to make a genuine effort to understand themselves and their relationships to a degree that I find unusual as an American.  American people are not very self-knowing, and one seldom hears them discuss their family relationships with much sensitivity or insight.  This film is strikingly different in that respect.

There is great music throughout the film.  Both Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich are world class pianists.  There are sequences of them performing at various stages of their lives.  It is clear that music serves as an adhesive that binds all of these people together.

The film is in French and English with subtitles available in a number of other languages as well.  There is a menu where you can select.  Argerich speaks French despite originating in Argentina.  Kovacevich is American, but has lived most of his adult life in England.  Stephanie speaks English, and French with her mother.  If you like classical music, piano, or European life and culture, this is an excellent film that is a personal, in depth study of a fascinating family of top quality musicians.

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