Directed by Judith Helfand, Love and Stuff is chock-full of substance, and despite the numerous topics that it covers, everything is perfectly intertwined. Love and Stuff comes down to one word – motherhood. Complex and emotional, Helfand’s film looks at what it means to have a mother, become a mother, and have those realities stripped of you against your will.
We begin our journey with Judith as she navigates turning her mother’s apartment into a hospice as she comes to the end of her battle with cancer. It was a shocking reality to witness the preparation for death. We learn some of her mother’s wishes, and listen in as Judith tearfully asks her mother how she is supposed to live without her.
After her passing, Judith is forced to go through her mother’s belongings, including generations of mementos. Understandably, Judith struggles with letting go. It’s almost as if letting go of her belongings solidified the truth that her mother was gone. (I can appreciate not wanting to lose all of the things that were important to, not just her mother, but to generations of family members.) But, for Judith, it was simply too much ‘stuff’ for her New York apartment to house. How do you choose what to keep of her memory?
A curve ball in this piece is the impact that the pharmaceutical industry can have on an individual (and even entire families) for years down the line. It’s terrifying to think of how a medication meant for good can completely alter the trajectory of someone’s life. We witness how Judith’s health was seriously affected by a medication that her mother took before she was born. It was heartbreaking to look back on old footage of Judith going through a significant medical procedure that would change her life forever. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it was, not only for Judith, but also for her mother to see her own daughter live through that tragedy. Perhaps the bright side was that it seemed to bring them closer together.
I can’t help but continue to soak in the idea of legacy and the impact that we have on our children. Love and Stuff is a sobering narrative on the importance of keeping our health in order to be around longer for our children. Though the film is also a call to live in the moment. Recalling the past, having memories, and learning from the past are all important but if we spend too long reliving the past, it can be detrimental to our future.
Throughout Love and Stuff, I consistently thought what an incredible narrator Judith Helfand turns out to be. Because this is her personal story, the entire piece is from her voice. I was also impressed with the cinematography, including the shots that paused on certain collections of belongings or different corners of the apartments. I couldn’t help but feel like I was sitting on the couch next to Judith listening to her discuss her experiences.
I felt personally impacted by Love and Stuff. With tears, I battled with the reality of mortality, grief, and legacy right along with Judith. So many of the battles reflected in this piece are incredibly difficult to comprehend. As Judith concludes, “Transitions and goodbyes are notoriously difficult for everybody. I guess it’s a good thing we get so much practice.”
Despite the emotional nature of the film, I felt a glimmer of hope for Judith and her newfound family. Though difficult, we witness Judith coming to terms with her new normal as she slowly learns to live without her Mother.
Love & Stuff premiered at the Hot Docs Film Festival online this weekend.