A Family Affair looks at the failed role of a mother determined to live life by her own rules, and the impact of childhood experiences that shape us in adulthood.
Marianne Cilliers is 95-years-old, self-obsessed and living in a fantasy world in South Africa. She struggles to come to grips with her own truth—one comprised of invented memories where she neglects to understand the repercussions of her actions.
A mother of two now middle-aged sons and a daughter, she is in complete denial of her past as her son Rob tries to reconcile their relationship.
“I am the son of a mother with a mask,” he says. His emotions overflow as he describes the failed connection and lack of affection from the woman who abandoned him at an orphanage, along with his two siblings, when he was a toddler.
The documentary is shot by Rob’s son, Tom, who tries desperately to break down Marianne’s walls and make sense of the woman beyond the label of cruel mother and estranged grandmother.
Interweaving home videos, old photographs and film reels from Marianne’s modelling career, the film shows Marianne who lives for glamour as she glides from room to room like Sunset Boulevard’s Gloria Swanson—a celebrity who has fallen from grace and mourns the loss of her beauty and youth.
It is only in establishing a connection with her grandson that Marianne lets her guard down. Her fascination with him allows her to reveal a history and emotional world that she has never disclosed to her own children.
The two-hour-long film could ideally have dispensed with at least half an hour, but proves to be a moving story, regardless. Driven largely by Marianne and the experiences and perspective of her son Rob, A Family Affair reveals that while time isn’t always the antidote to healing old wounds, sometimes forgiveness and acceptance can assist us in letting go of past mistakes.