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USA, 1991 (MIFF 1991, Documentaries)

Director: Jan Oxenberg

Jan Oxenberg's latest film is a deeply moving journey into the life of her family on the eve of her grandmother's death. An intense personal diary, Thank You and Good Night documents an extended period of time during Grandma Mae Joffe's illness.

Oxenberg balances verite footage of the family with fictional scenes of Scowling Jan, a stylised cardboard cutout of herself which probes her memories and fantasies and demands answers to difficult questions about life. The mix proves to be poignant and funny; as the Oxenberg family grapples with the impending sense of loss, Scowling Jan asks, "Was Grandma's life really rotten, or did she just make herself miserable? Why didn't she teach my mother to cook? Who gets to keep her TV? Why do people have to die anyway?"

The last question is most aggravating as throughout most of the film. Grandma Mae is a strong and vibrant woman, despite her illness. Thus the ensuing emptiness after her death cuts very deep.

The scrutiny of Scowling Jan into the nature of life and death arouses deep sentiments, which reverberate in the actions taken by the Oxenberg's to deal with Grandma. Sometimes they are as childish as she is; other times they are as funny. Either way the probing is a challenging and emotional experience. The clash of humour and pathos in Thank You and Good Night provides few answers to the questions, but one still walks away with a certain tranquility. -Alberto Garcia

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