Sunday, May 06, 2012

Hot Docs Mini Review: The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song


Christy Garland’s film, The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song, is a heartbreaking tale of addiction. Set in Guyana, the film documents the constant conflict between Muscle and his mother Mary. Muscle is a father of two young girls and works as a merchant by day. When he is not tending to his family, he spends his free time raising roosters for cock fights and racing songbirds. While these things serve as a minor distraction, Muscle cannot escape the fact that his attempts to help his mother are failing. At age 75, Mary is an alcoholic whose drinking problem has caused the family so much grief. To block out the horrific events of the past Mary uses poetry and alcohol as a way to heal her emotional wounds, though the latter has taken over her life of late.

The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song is a film that conveys the hopeless attempts of Muscle to get his mother sober. The problem is that Muscle is not in any position financially to get his mother professional help she desperately needs. Garland documents how the class situation in Guyana has played a direct role in the abuses that many women, such of Mary, have endured. The film also shows how abuse is interpreted by succeeding generations. For example, those who witness abuse from a young age assume it is normal and something to be expected.

The repetitious natures of The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song holds the film back somewhat. There are only so many times you can watch Mary attempt to “go for a walk”, which is her code for wanting to sneak out for a drink, before the impact begins to lessen. Repetition is a key aspect of addiction but from a film standpoint, it starts to become a bit over barring. It would have been nice to learn a bit more about Muscle’s and Mary’s complex history instead of hitting on the same beats over and over. Still, as a study on how abuse and addiction can erode a family, The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song is a film that will leave its mark on audiences.

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