When extreme close-ups have a Lucian Freud like effect, movie-watching can become a soul-searching experience. You know what I mean if you’ve seen Mads Mikkelsen in Valhalla Rising (2009). Mikkelsen’s sublime reluctance is always a prelude to remorseless aggression. I was reminded of Mikkelsen’s saintly eyes while watching Ramon Salazar’s Sunday’s Illness (La Enfermedad del Domingo, 2018) – a movie I discovered recently on Netflix. Close-ups of a terminally ill daughter and a guilt-ridden mother dominate the movie. Their mental anxieties permeate in the environment they choose to live: be it Chiara’s gloomy chalet, or Anabel (Chiara’s incredibly wealthy mother)’s opulent mansion, inner torment turns them into Munch’s soul-painted characters.
Anabel had abandoned Chiara when she was eight years old. She has married well and has another grown-up daughter from her second marriage. Thirty five years later, now, Chiara has approached her to request a ten-day mother-daughter togetherness. Is Chiara here for money? Is she here to exact revenge? Would she unleash a regime of blackmail? No, Chiara wants just ten days with her mother in a chalet locked away in Spanish countryside.
I like a movie when tensions begin right at the opening. Chiara is an unwanted maid in Anabel’s meticulously hosted party. She openly flouts Anabel’s house rules. When Anabel asks for white wine, she pours her a serving of red. Director Salazar plays with similar contrast of colours throughout the movie. Chiara, played by a funereal dark haired Barbara Lennie, is a reverse mirror to her mother Anabel with flowing white hair.
Contrast is always a great cinematography device, and Salazar would use it in scene sequences, dreams and landscape scenes. In the mountains around her chalet, Chiara vacantly peers through a wind swept cave. Anabel does the same when she has to live with Chiara. In her dreams the cave reappears, now with a dark hand approaching Anabel from behind.
Yes, Chiara is terminally ill, but she never allows her mother to apologize. Anabel pines for a conversation that never happens. Chiara bursts out one afternoon, throwing a cup at Anabel, complaining about the emptiness that surrounds her. Anabel’s head is a streak of blood, her expressions are hurt but optimistic of recovery. Chiara is dour, her smiles formidably cold.
Two scenes deserve delicate attention. A long scene when Chiara and Anabel are on a roller coaster rushing though the slopes of a mountain loop together. Chiara falls ill on her mother’s lap.
The final scene: Anabel gives her daughter the sought for final baptism in water. She takes Chiara by hand into a cold lake and then drowns her while she holds her in her arms.
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