There are myriad docus about relatives but none perverse as Sergio Trefaut's maternal portrait. Filmmaker's mother barely seems to have attended events in her own life, much less participated in broader social movements, even though she was wed to a French fascist and a Portuguese communist. Best appreciated in specialized fest or cable docu venues.

These days, there are myriad docus about relatives — living portals to the past, heroically straddling the intersection of family anecdotes and historical occurrences. But none is as perverse as Sergio Trefaut’s maternal portrait “Fleurette.” Filmmaker’s mother barely seems to have attended events in her own life, much less participated in broader social movements, even though she was wed to a French fascist and a Portuguese communist. Seen through the eyes of a frustrated son/documentarian whose sole witness pleads selective amnesia, this highly ironic study in dissociation might best be appreciated in specialized fest or cable documentary venues.

The mirror opposite of Miklos Gimes’ “Mother,” where the indomitable Lucy Gimes assumes total accountability for her actions and their consequences, “Fleurette” showcases a seriously repressed woman who lives in total denial. The facts that helmer Trefaut manages to pry from his laconic mater, as he accompanies her on jaunts to her former stomping grounds in France and Portugal in futile efforts to jog her recalcitrant memory, are so bare-bones that they seem incredible.

Sergio learns that when Fleurette was 10, her mother was taken to a mental hospital where she remained until she died eight years later. The lack of emotion with which Fleurette explains to her son why she never even tried to see her mother again (she knew it wasn’t allowed), and the baffled silence with which this pronouncement is received set the tone for the whole film.

For sheer denial, however, nothing beats Fleurette’s description of her first marriage. She wedded her first husband, although she didn’t love him, because her future mother-in-law claimed he would commit suicide if she didn’t accept his proposal. He was a member of the PPF, a French fascist organization, and through him she got a job as a cashier in a Nazi-sponsored anti-Bolshevik exposition in Paris.

Miraculously, Fleurette passed through the war and the Occupation knowing and seeing nothing while married to an active fascist. She doesn’t even appear to feel the need to explain the anomaly, claiming that her husband didn’t tell her what was going on until she reached the age of 30. At that point, at the end of the war, she fled with him to Germany, staying there for several months before she was sent back home. She professes no more interest in what ultimately became of him (sent to an internment camp, she thinks) than she did in what became of her institution-confined mom.

Back in France, she wound up working for the French government in the Tourism Bureau, smilingly greeting guests at the first Cannes Film Festival.

The account of the second part of Fleurette’s life, though infused with more emotion (her communist husband, who left her, was the true love of her life), remains equally disconnected.

Sergio’s saint-like diffidence in the face of his mother’s constant reticence would be a bit wearisome were it not leavened by the trenchant impatience of Sergio’s older brother, shown striding along a beach or lounging on a porch in Brazil, shirtless and paunched, gesturing expansively as he describes the scattered family’s utterly outrageous dysfunctionality. The brother’s commentary, interspersed through the film, is a welcome, hang-loose alternative to pic’s otherwise more excruciatingly polite mother/son video tango.

Fleurette

Portugal

Production

A Filmes do Tejo production in association with RTP. Produced by Maria Joao Mayer, Francois D'Artemare. Directed by Sergio Trefaut.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Joao Ribeiro; editor, Pedro Duarte; sound, Pedro Figueiredo. Reviewed at Museum of Modern Art Documentary Fortnight, New York, Dec. 12, 2003. Running time: 80 MIN. (Portuguese, French dialogue.)

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