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Imagine if Paris Hilton lived during a time when reality television didn’t exist and the world wasn’t coming up with ways to employ the talentless and the useless— a hundred grand to host a night club party? Anne Beckmann, one of the subjects of the documentary “The Good Life,” would have relished the opportunity to get paid for showing up to parties or having her life taped. Maybe then she could have had a cushion ready for when her inheritance disappeared.
The Good Life, a documentary from Denmark making its North American Premiere in the Viewpoints category of the 2011 TriBeCa Film Festival, focuses on Mette and Anne Beckmann, who have gone from the uber-comfort of their upper class life to living off Mette’s tiny pension in a two-bedroom apartment in Portugal. Mette married a man who lived off his father’s business, but never actually worked to manage it. Their daughter, Anne, grew up with help around the house, homes in several countries and speaking many languages, but never working a day in her life. Flash forward to Anne at 56-years-old and living with her elderly mother who is battling cancer. Anne refuses to work and blames her mother for not preparing her for their current situation.
It may be hard to sympathize with these two women, especially the daughter. Watching the elderly woman completely resigned as her daughter spends her money and verbally attacks her is truly painful, but the psychology of it is pretty fascinating. It is fascinating that work could be so taboo to someone, that someone would rather daydream about their previous luxury rather than make the best of their situation, that watching their mother suffer in the twilight of her life is not enough to trigger a genuine, whole-hearted effort to change. It may be hard to sympathize, but its nearly impossible not to feel utterly sad.
What makes the story of Mette and Anne an effective and thought-provoking documentary is that it examines the relationship between material possession and character. Money and luxury essentially set the stage for tragedy within this family, because not only do they have to deal with poor living circumstances, but they are crippled with lack of skills, lack of perspective and an inability to tap into the love that exists between each other.
But, award-winning director Eva Mulvad also finds ways to involve the natural and inevitable comedy that exists between two such characters. There are enough laughs throughout The Good Life to provide occasional relief from the brutally honest, emblematic and yes, quite depressing, reflections.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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