Six American mothers, united in grief over the loss of a child, travel to Africa to find their way. That's the concept behind Motherland, a documentary that follows the women's emotional journey toward some kind of solace. But there's a detachment to the proceedings that goes beyond objectivity, something more physically isolated that contradicts the entire goal of their trip.
It's an inspired step for these mothers to choose South Africa as the destination of their extreme self-confrontation. The film opens with a quote from a United Nations special envoy who says the country 'has become a nation of mourners.â?� Ravaged by disease and famine, Africa's is a culture of proximity as survival, and the embrace of pure emotional passion provides a release from grief's tight grip. Music and dance go hand-in-hand with every aspect of life there, and, as one commenter observes, communities are so tight-knit that 'isolation is not an option.â?� That's a valuable tool for these suburban women, all of whom have felt the cold shoulder that accompanies the advent of sorrow ' losing the smiling veneer of denial that's as embedded in American towns as openness is in African villages, paradoxically, can bring isolation. Besides, there's something undeniably primal about the birthplace of humankind that calls to lost souls; the 'motherlandâ?� is for healing, but also for absolution from an event that's so unnatural.
Given this setup, it's bizarre that the film and the trip play out as a weekend retreat rather than an immersive pilgrimage. The ladies are welcomed at Oudtshoorn, a relatively well-off section of South Africa where an innkeeper touts increased tourism as a new means of revenue. They're put up in a house that mimics the suburban beige they've retreated from, and although they're shuffled off on volunteer trips with local children and homemakers, they always end up back in their own living room spouting therapy affirmations and practicing yoga. One woman even allows herself to fully withdraw into her own depression and is judged and given a talking-to by the others for not being a 'part of the group,â?� even though they've all admitted that a major draw of the trip was being able to let go and embrace the pain. That isn't perspective therapy; it's the PTA all over again.
Available for online viewing for a $2.99 digital rental at