“You cannot put a price on sacrifice” proclaims Rebecca Danigelis as she reflects upon her struggling circumstance. After the Liverpool-born 75-year-old mother is fired from her job as a housekeeping manager at a hotel in America, she teams up with her son, journalist and the film’s director, Sian-Pierre Regis, to reinvent herself on and off the job market.
Short and defiantly sweet, Duty Free is a tender documentation of life outside of our assigned job roles. It serves as a reminder to live for joy and authentic moments when possible. Rebecca rides the waves of emotion, sometimes seemingly defeated, only to be swept back on her feet by her son when he suggests she write a bucket list. Determined to provide and support his mother, Sian raises $60,000 and the pair begin ticking off Rebecca’s much-needed desires.
From joining Instagram to skydiving to reconnecting with her long lost daughter, Rebecca spends a year of her unemployment living life to the fullest, whenever possible. The endless cheesy backstory is weaved throughout the pressing unemployment narrative as Rebecca confronts her past mistakes and victories. Immigrating to America over 40 years ago, the mother made many sacrifices to provide for her two sons, Sian-Pierre and Gabrielle. The tale of her long lost daughter; her firstborn child from another marriage whom she sent to live in England long before the birth of her sons, is teased constantly. Family confrontations coast along the climax of the narratives, resulting in a genuine story of personal and societal survival.
Touching scenes are scattered throughout the 1 hour 10 minute run time, as we bear witness to a compassionate exchange of support and care between mother and son. Pausing his journalism career to support his mother, Sian-Pierre highlights the intense difficulties his mother faces, from age discrimination to eviction notices. These are consequences of modern times, as capitalism provides no aftercare for those it deems no longer useful. Rather than proclaiming this with passionate sincerity, the documentary opts for a more upbeat, hopeful close. It sheds a small light on how this is a universal issue faced by the older, able workforce, yet refuses to dive deeper as scenes of the family turmoil take central focus.
The feature touches on a multitude of issues, never taking the plunge to say anything overly insightful or with urgency. However, this does not take away from the emotional pulls in the narrative. Duty Free is an absolute relatable tear-jerker. In an impressive execution, this documentary seeks (and succeeds) to provide something for everyone, entertainingly cliché and oozing authenticity. The prospects of Rebecca’s future are somewhat ambiguous, although the message of the doc rings true – there’s more to life than work.
Duty Free is out in UK cinemas now
by Kelsie Dickinson