On the final weekend of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, I excitedly gathered in a cinema with a room full of mostly women to watch a repeat screening of Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece, which had opened the festival’s Special Presentations section. What I hadn’t expected was to see a film so in tune with not only my experience as a woman — the contradictions, self-policing, and complex relationship with my mother — but also what it’s like to process grief, to live in Toronto, and to figure out who you are and what you believe. I laughed a lot, and by the end of the film, there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience — even the men were bawling. I immediately began telling everyone I knew that they needed to see Mouthpiece.
Although Mouthpiece was a fun, cathartic, and emotional experience — in the vein of Fleabag, but with less privilege and white feminism — it was also a thrilling cinematic one. Like Fleabag, it was adapted from a play. It also pulls in a theatrical conceit that it’s hard to believe would work on film, but does so perfectly: two actresses play the film’s thirty-year-old protagonist, Cassandra. Cassandra is a woman at war with herself, her self image, and conflicted about her feelings for her mother who passed away unexpectedly. The two actresses who play her, Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken, sensitively dramatise her internal conflict: arguing with each other, laughing at each other, policing each other’s behaviour, and sometimes even coming to physical blows. Within minutes, you’re convinced that Sadava and Nostbakken are one person.
Mouthpiece is a feminist statement about what it means to be a modern woman, the sacrifices made for career and family, the conflicting feelings of being a heterosexual woman who does not want to be controlled by the patriarchy, the way women police and perform for themselves, and the crippling nature of grief. Working closely with her two lead actresses who wrote the play on which the film was based, acclaimed Canadian director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park, I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing), who has enjoyed a long career examining the female psyche, has crafted a modern classic. Mouthpiece has garnered critical praise, and has been described as “a deeply moving piece of work” (Roger Ebert), “bracingly sharp” (BFI), and “a truly revolutionary piece of filmmaking” (LA Times).
Unfortunately, until recently, the film was impossible to see outside of Canada and the US, where it received a modest theatrical release before landing on VOD (and not in physical media). That’s not a statement on its quality; we at Seventh Row named the film our 3rd favourite film of the decade. Instead, it’s a frustrating quirk of international film distribution which has the tendency to ignore films without big-name stars, and unsurprisingly, stories by and about women. Indeed, it’s one of four Canadian films directed by or about women on our list — which also includes Our Loved Ones, Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Ninth Floor — that you’ve probably never heard of and may not even have had access to seeing.
This week, we at Seventh Row are working to change that trend by offering a free worldwide screening of Mouthpiece from October 1st – 4th on our website. This may be your only chance to see this miracle of a film, and we hope you’ll join us for the screening. On Friday, October 2nd, we’ll be hosting a Watch Party on Twitter at 5PM ET (#MouthpieceWatchParty). And on Sunday, October 4, we’ll be hosting a special edition of our Lockdown Film School with the film’s director, Patricia Rozema, where she’ll walk us through making the film, and provide insights on directing gleaned from her three decades in the industry.
In the meantime, we’ve put together a treasure trove of supplementary content on the Seventh Row website about Mouthpiece. My in-depth interview with Rozema, Nostbakken, and Sadava on making the film, previously only available in our ebook The 2019 Canadian Cinema Yearbook, is now free on the site for the duration of the screening window. You can catch up with our past sessions of Lockdown Film School in which we talk to Nostbakken and Sadava about collaboration, and the film’s cinematographer, Catherine Lutes, about her work on it. Finally, we’ve recorded two podcasts on the film: one just on Mouthpiece, and one where we discuss it in the context of other films about grieving for dead mothers (Louder Than Bombs and Stories We Tell).
by Alex Heeney
Alex Heeney is the Editor-in-Chief of Seventh Row, a nonprofit Canadian film criticism publication. She has recently published books on Kelly Reichardt and Céline Sciamma.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Women Film-makers
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