France / West Germany, 1984 (MIFF 1985)
Director: Helma Sanders-Brahms
Isabelle, a film actress in her mid-thirties and at the pinnacle of her fame, returns from filming in Berlin to the small seaside French town where her parents care for her young daughter while she is away. Her co-star, with whom she is having an affair, follows her and moves into a nearby hotel, pestering her by telephone.
Spanning little more than 24 hours, The Future of Emily explores the shifting relationships between its five major characters - the actress, her parents, her child, her lover.
Isabelle's mother, herself an aspiring young actress at the time of her marriage, is both resentful and proud of her daughter's success. The father maintains a moral anger, and deep-rooted sense of shame - his daughter has never married the father of her child. Isabelle's relations with her own daughter, Emily, are meanwhile under pressure because of the guilt she feels about her own long absences. The presence of the lover in town finally precipitates a crisis, followed by a long night and morning of bitter recriminations and tentative reconciliations.
This is a sensitive, mature film with strong autobiographical undertones (both director and star are mothers of young daughters, and there is a pointed reference to Fossey's own performance when a child star herself, over thirty years ago, in Rene Clement's Forbidden Games).
Sanders-Brahms describes it as "a film for five faces or five voices: chamber music, a quintet In it I try to speak about the difficult and complex emotions that I feel when I come home to see my parents and my child. I cannot always love them, sometimes I hate them. But maybe I will be forgiven all the same: because in a biblical sense, I fear them, as I fear life. And death. This is also a film showing five faces of love, if you agree that love is not only that sexual thing among adults, but also that one that you carry for your mother or your father or your child, though they understand you less than anybody else in the world... you think".
The film is never as downbeat or one-sided as Bergman's Autumn Sonata to which it has some affinity. Sanders-Brahms' recognition of the ambivalence in parent-child relationships, and her ability to present us with the lighter moments as well as the darker side of such relationships, confirm her as a major talent whose reputation may yet surpass that of Bergman himself.