“Tell me the correct story. Completely.”
A mother says she is happy. Her daughter points out she’s just been crying. Where does the truth lie between mothers and daughters? Using photos, video interviews, and text, Sachli Gholamalizad explores her own relationship with her mother and the years of strife between them in A Reason to Talk. Gholamalizad interrogates her own behavior as well as that of her mother’s to try to understand how they’ve gotten here. But even with an unusual approach and unsentimental lens, the piece feels like it needs more development in the execution.
Gholamalizad sits at a computer station with her back to the audience. Her face is visible on one or two monitors as she projects text, video, and images on the other screens. Sometimes she speaks to us from the screens but more often than not she leaves it to text. Typing her fears, the lyrics to a song, and the questions she longs to ask her mother.
But it is the video footage of Gholamalizad cross-examining her mother at some point in the past that galvanizes the work and gives us our primary focus. And the story her mother tells is not clear cut. Slowly facts begin to drip out of her. Gholamalizad’s family escaped Iran and ended up in Belgium. It took two years for her father to join them. Her mother did not tell the children everything that was going on. She and her husband worked hard to provide for them. All she wants now is for them to be happy.
And with each fact, comes an evasion. With each question Gholamalizad asks her mother, a passable answer is challenged. We watch their ritual of communication, with accusations and half-truths, repeated over and over. Both leave the conversation unsatisfied. The hurt remains unhealed.
Gholamalizad writes on the screen “Lying has become a form of survival.” You have sympathy for her mother, who found herself in a foreign country, not speaking the language, trying to hold a family together in adverse circumstances. You feel for Gholamalizad who wants honesty and clarity from her mother. But even her mother says at one point, “We couldn’t give each other what we needed.”
This push and pull is authentic to their relationship (and oddly familiar to those of us with complicated relationships with our parents). But dramatically I longed for a connection with the woman in the room. Conceptually, employing distance to complain about a mother who is emotionally distant may be an interesting tool to then demonstrate daughters becoming like their mothers. But the experience needed to be tighter overall for that effect to work. Moreover, when the story shifts to Gholamalizad’s grandmother the piece loses focus.
For a lot of talking, a great deal feels left unsaid in A Reason to Talk. But the core premise and style of the approach are truly unique and with further shaping this piece could pack more of an emotional wallop.