Monday 5 September 2016


When Karen Guthrie’s mother Ann suffered a debilitating stroke, she returned to her hometown of Largs on the Scottish coast to help care for her with the rest of her family, including her father who had moved out of the family home fifteen years earlier.
Delivered from the point of view of someone trying to make sense of her parents’ relationship, the narration from Guthrie is often raw and poetic. As she talks of how she returned home when “the doctors couldn’t put mum back together again”, it’s impossible not to empathise with her and feel her pain. As the incidences that have shaped her family (including her father’s decision to change his career and moved to Djibouti for work for ten years) are recounted, it reveals an untied family unit.
Karen’s father is a delightfully interesting figure; often cantankerous, always pre-occupied, sometimes shouting at the televised sport he enjoys watching. He returned to the family home fifteen years after separating from his wife, bringing with him a number of additional secrets (that I won’t reveal here) that shook the foundations of the family.A complicated man with a number of contradictions on display, he as it once traditional with grand expectations of what his sons should achieve (with the French Foreign Legion touted as a viable career path) and the architect of this modern arrangement that falls under the umbrella of his family.
Guthrie has documented her family for a number of years, so the film is able to flash back to earlier years before Ann's stroke  made her a near silent observer, to when she learnt about her husband's time abroad and his reasons for leaving the family home. She is visibly chagrined at having spent many years as the dutiful wife, just to see him pursue his personal desires, so perhaps it's some sort of recompense that he returned to act as a companion to Ann.
There's a number of fascinating characters within the family, and although this was clearly a cathartic exercise for Guthrie herself, under explored is the effect this unconventional family set up had on her siblings (including her brother Mark who was a member of the 90s Britpop outfit The Supernaturals).
What works is the overwhelming normality of the situation. There's no huge dramatic outbursts, no accounts of fights and accusations. This is a family existing in the wake of revelations that could tear apart many families, and the entire bizarre tale is told with a great dignity. As Guthrie reveals every twist and turn of this unconventional set up, it's an honest and often raw portrait.
With echoes of Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, The Closer We Get is a very personal account of family life, and an often heartbreaking, deeply affecting story.


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