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May Miles Thomas is an intelligent and valuable film-making presence, and her new film is an engrossing cine-memoir of her mother-in-law. This is one of the most enjoyable documentaries of the year, and the fact that no distributor or UK festival has yet picked it up is baffling.
It is a deeply engaging kind of personal cinema, or essay cinema, or autobiographical cinema, touching on notions of family and secrecy, beautifully filmed and composed, mixing contemporary location shots with a trove of home movies and photographs. The original music by Euan Stevenson is excellent, and there is a wonderful narrative voiceover from Sîan Phillips, who portrays Thomas’s heroine, Erica Eisner, using the vast archive of her letters and diaries.
Erica was the daughter of the Hungarian-born industrial chemist Jozef “Bob” Eisner, who fled Nazi Europe and settled in England with his family; after a brief internment as an enemy alien, he became a member of the British establishment and a friend of Ian Fleming (his smooth, worldly manner and foreign accent reputedly made him the basis for all Bond villains). Erica was born in 1933, the younger sister of Edward Eisner, who became a celebrated physicist and rumoured intelligence agent – a conceited man whose overbearing attitude infuriated Erica. (Edward’s Wikipedia entry says he caused consternation in academe by writing a haughty open letter to Nasa in 1969, telling them how to improve the TV coverage of moon missions.)
Erica herself – talented but subject to the casual sexism of British society, not to mention antisemitism – studied natural sciences at Cambridge, and was employed by government agencies looking at cold war techniques of psychological warfare. She was briefly at the Ministry of Defence unit at Orford Ness, in Suffolk, before becoming a wife and mother who dealt with depression and what she saw as the intractable mystery of life. This film is a vivid portrait of an embattled and passionate woman.
• Voyageuse has a Glasgow film festival screening at Lighthouse, Dublin, on 23 October, and is at Watershed, Bristol, on 31 October. Watch online via the film’s website.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Voyageuse review – touching tour of a family and its secrets | Documentary films