Gentle And Foreboding, DISTANCE 空间 Lovingly Renders A Familiar Family Portrait
A middle-aged woman grapples with her grief and new chapter in life after the passing of her elderly mother. Amidst trying to sell her family home, her mother’s spirit comes back to ensure that everything remains the same.
Director: Grace Swee
Cast: Elena Chia, Loh Heng Joo, Kelly Lim, Michael Chua
Country: Singapore, USA
Language: Hokkien, English
Runtime: 19 minutes
Review by: Leticia Sim
The thicket of paraphernalia in a family home is a hint of constant in a sea of variables—for some, the memories tied to them could provide a semblance of comfort in an ever-changing landscape, for others it could be a stark reminder of their obligations and sacrifices.
In Distance, Grace Swee uses these elements to lovingly render a familiar portrait: an observational short film on the more gloomy, unspoken rhythms of grief, familial duty, and intricate family ties.
Following the passing of her elderly mother, Eileen struggles to come to terms with her loss and grief. During this transitional period, she and her siblings are packing up the family home and selling it off to start a new chapter in their lives. One night, her mother’s spirit comes back to revisit the home and to ensure everything remains the same.
“I explored the responsibilities we, as Asian women, place on ourselves. We take on caregiver roles and struggle with self-actualisation in the midst of societal and familial expectations…as much as love was involved, there was a sense of ‘carrying the burden’, which they obligingly submit themselves to,” says Swee in her director’s statement. This feeling of personal wreckage spreads throughout the short while Eileen, through sparse dialogue, navigates her relationship with her mother, one that is haunted by burden and love.
As Eileen, a middle-aged woman and the eldest of her siblings, revisits all her duties as a caretaker, a thin stream of resentment punctuates their interactions. Much of the film focuses on capturing Eileen’s reactions to her family—her dependant mother, her younger siblings. The subtleties in her demeanor, the piercing silences, or the crinkles on her face as she’s carrying out her responsibilities are fraught with years of conflicting, unspoken emotions.
The family home, brimming with personal objects and the memories binded to them, almost acts like a character in and of itself. Set solely in the intimate environment of a HDB flat, it feels like we’re eavesdropping on family tension. It’s made even more profound by the fact that Distance depicts an older family, one that isn’t typically the subject of conflicting family dynamics.
Distinctions between various parts of the house, and various parts of Eileen’s relationship are illustrated delicately with moody lighting and tightly framed shots, conveying unspoken sensitivity. The interactions in both casually spoken English and Hokkien emphasise the changing family dynamics, and make the changing dynamics within Eileen feel even more visceral.
Gentle and foreboding, Distance navigates the fragile grey area between shouldering filial duties, and personal identity. Finding closure through familiar mediums, it paints a conflicting type of mourning that, on closer look, is more common than we think.