Once My Mother

August 11, 2014


Yesterday I went to see a film with my Mum & my brother, which doesn’t happen very often for various reasons in itself, so that was nice.  It was an Australian film telling a Polish story called Once My Mother. My Mum is Polish & she asked if my brother & I would like to join her.  Cheap Tuesday – why not?

But nice isn’t the word I’d use to describe the film.  I’m a little lost for words to describe it right now, but perhaps they will come to me as I write this.

Once My Mother essentially intertwines the life stories of Sophia Turkiewicz and her Polish mother Helena.  This is a hard-core, broken down unglamorous version of an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?  Sophia discovers, as I imagine many of us would, that as she delves into her mother’s past she discovers why her Mother made the decisions she did in her life & how her experiences shaped not only the mother Helen became, but also the person Sophia becomes.

The atrocities and adversities that Helena survived as a youth starting in Poland in the 1920s, travelling across Europe through Siberia, Persia, Africa & finally Australia, were unnerving, but stories that are not unfamiliar to me.  I was most moved by the conversations between the now middle aged Sophia & Helena, now elderly & sliding into dementia.  I could have sobbed listening to Helen asking Sophia who she was, telling her what a long, long day it had been.  I can only imagine how devastating it must be to watch your Mother whose strength was so important to her survival, slip away.

As all great documentaries should, this film provoked questions from the three of us which we discussed on the way home.  Questions about history & our knowledge or lack of certain situations, questions we’d like to ask our own loved ones, & relationships within our own family.

I think my own Mother would have related to the film, particularly Sophia’s embarrassment.  My Mother was born in Germany but raised an Australian & often speaks of her need to “fit in”.  As a child in post war Australia with parents who didn’t speak English & owning a different culture, I know she found her home life difficult & “embarrassing”.  I always wondered if her Polish/Australian peers felt the same, if I take Sophia’s story into account, it would seem so.  What a shame!

I loved that it was a story I could really relate to.  Helena’s survival in Poland & her arrival in Australia, most particularly Adelaide, South Australia, just like my grandmother, made me feel a real connection to a community of people that my family belonged.  But most of all I think it resonated with me as a story of mothers & daughters.  The stories we don’t know & may never know of our Mother’s & their Mother’s lives & how they came to be the people they are.

Along with this being Sophia Turkiewicz’s story, she is also the screenwriter & director, what a brave, talented woman!

We saw Once My Mother at Cinema Paradiso in Northbridge.

Emotional, I got it!  I would describe this film as emotional. Go see it!  Even if you’re not a Pole!


My favourite Polish proverb – I used it this morning, but unfortunately they were my Monkeys!!

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