The Journey: Swallow


eyes of the sky In the wealthy family of the Conrads, everything must be handled perfectly, from the career of the first-born son Richie (Austin Stowell), who must take care of the prosperous father’s business, to the impeccable health of his partner Hunter (Haley Bennett), in charge of giving birth, without mishaps, to the future heir to the family patrimony. swallow (2019), the first fiction feature film by the New York director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, describes the heavy domestic climate faced by the inexperienced and submissive young spouse in her attempt to minimally fit into a family that mistrusts her and reserves a disdainful treatment for her. as if Hunter were, as a wife, little more than a surrogate womb to prolong a dynasty.

According to the testimony of the filmmaker and screenwriter, the story of swallow It is inspired by the case of her own grandmother, who in the fifties suffered harsh harassment from her husband’s family for not complying with the demands of a strict patriarchal morality. As a consequence of this mistreatment, the woman soon responded with a compulsive mental disorder, clinically known as pica, consisting of the need to swallow all kinds of inedible material – ice cubes, earth, various objects, even sharp objects – as a form of self-punishment. . At a time when psychiatry showed little willingness or patience for non-aggressive therapies, the patient underwent a series of electroshocks and finally a lobotomy.

In swallow the director does not proceed at all to the punctual transcription of those therapeutic atrocities. Hunter, its protagonist, gradually reveals the severity of her compulsive disorder to the consternation of her husband and extended family, concerned less about the fate of that future mother than about the danger that the ingestion of dangerous objects (a marble, a nut, a pin and more harmful objects), could represent for the fetus in gestation. On her part, the wife experiences her suffering with surprising ease: she recovers the swallowed objects in the toilet, cleans them and collects them on a shelf, and then resumes the maniacal ritual. There is in these acts a desire for self-flagellation, but also a substitute gratification not exempt from narcissistic sensuality. Also Hunter’s urge to become visible and assert her own identity in the social environment that dehumanizes and ignores her. When this pathological situation becomes aggravated, medical personnel intervene to repair bodily damage as much as possible. The family then decides to place the wife in house confinement with a full-time guardian, the Syrian refugee Luay (Laith Nakli), the only figure who shows empathy for the captive and powerless woman. This singular man who has gone through especially painful experiences, brings some sanity to a domestic drama headed for delirium. In his disillusioned opinion, there is no time for mental problems when in a war one is always busy dodging bullets.

swallow It is not the horror film that advertising or media rumors insinuate. Its director and screenwriter carefully avoids some of the temptations and facilities of that genre, especially the tremendous gore. Faced with the obvious will of others to decide and manage, in his place, the functions of his body, Hunter responds – in a truly disturbing way – with an erratic and sick behavior that in fact keeps her outside the control established by the authority. domestic. Something similar happens with that pregnancy of his that he never joyfully assumes and that is imposed on him as an inescapable conjugal duty. There is something of political incorrectness in Hunter’s rebellious pathology, an intention that Director Mirabella-Davis does not deny when he states: I wanted to make a feminist film that explored the expectations of gender and patriarchy. Although these words sound somewhat pamphleteer, the film handles a more complex and suggestive dramatic tone. A home environment of minimalist and impeccable design has today become as oppressive as that ideal of the pristine American dream evoked by Todd Haynes in Far from the sky (2002) or in the miniseries Mildred Pierce (2012). Such a perfect illusion of family comfort often spawns monsters and mental anomalies. swallow deals, with malicious dexterity, with only one of them.

It is shown at Cine Tonalá, Cinemanía, Casa del Cine and on the MUBI platform.

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