OverviewFor this assignment, I watched and analyzed the movie Ponette. Ponette is a French film by Jacque Dillion about a four-year-old girl coming to terms with the death of her mother after a car accident. Ponette herself survives the crash with a broken arm but is confronted with the news that her mother has died, delivered by her distraught father who is furious at his deceased wife for causing the accident. After her release from the hospital, her father, consumed by his own rage and grief, leaves her to live with her aunt Claire and her cousins Matiaz and Delphine, and little advice on how to process this loss.
During her time there, Ponette learns about religion, something that her atheist father does not approve of. She is told that, like Jesus, her mother is still around after her death, but unlike Jesus, she can never return. Soon after, she and her cousins are sent to boarding school where the loss of her mother becomes more intense and harder to bear. She is teased constantly for being motherless and, not having come to terms with her mother’s death, searches for her believing she is lost. She spends most of her days withdrawn and waiting for her mother, but when that fails, she enlists the help of her school friend Ada (Léopoldine Serre) to help her become a “child of God” to hopefully convince God to return her mother. In the end, Ponette visits a cemetery and cries for her mother, who suddenly appears.
She tells Ponette that she can never reappear to her and that she should move on and live her life.Losses Throughout Ponette, the driving force of the movie is Ponette’s loss of her mother and her trying to come to terms with it despite little help from those around her. As a four-year-old girl with far too little life experience, Ponette has no understanding of loss because she’s never had to go through it. So when she is told by her father that her mother is gone, she does not react because this means nothing to her. Death means nothing to her.
Her father may as well have told her that her mother was at the market or on vacation. Her feelings of loss are portrayed throughout the film, but they evolve from feelings of apathy to ones of hope, then desperation, then, ultimately acceptance as she learns to navigate her emotions on her own and in unfamiliar territories. StagesAt the first moments we meet Ponette, she’s in the first stage of grief, denial.
In her mind, her mother has simply gone somewhere and will return soon. This behavior of apathy is normal in a child her age who has never been through a loss like this, who has never had to feel bereavement or sorrow of any kind. Nothing has changed in her world aside from a broken arm, and there is no reason for her to believe any different. Ponette herself never goes through Anger, the second stage of grief, but her father undergoes this for her. The film does not give us any indication that he has gone through denial, but from the beginning, he is filled with rage. He is angry at the world for letting this happen, he is angry at himself for not being there, but worst of all, he is angry at his late wife for having the accident. He blames her for her own death and he thinks she was stupid and reckless for letting this happen to herself and their child.
As an atheist, he has no comfort from the thought of an afterlife, which only deepens his grief and fury. He is torn apart by his ire and, for this reason, he decides to leave his daughter with her aunt and cousins. Though they are highly religious, a trait he finds foolish and delusional, he believes they can care for her better than he can on his own. During her time there, Ponette is mostly left to her own devices to grapple with her emotions. Although her family is sympathetic, they are inept at helping her during this time.
Her aunt does, however, tell her that her mother is now with Jesus who rose from the dead. At such a young age, Ponette takes this literally which furthers her belief that her mother is simply gone and all she has to do is wait for her. Ponette’s feelings of apathy continue until she and her cousins are sent off to boarding school. Again, she finds herself in unfamiliar territory, however, this time those around her are much less sympathetic. Her classmates tease her for being motherless, (one boy even going as far as to say Ponette killed her own mother by being a bad girl) and this leads her to skip the stage of bargaining and go right into depression.
She becomes more withdrawn and reclusive in an attempt to avoid her bullies. To try and ameliorate her mood, adults try to feed her the cold comfort of mama being in heaven and tell her that she is making her mother cry by being sad. As you would expect, this does little to raise her spirits. In addition to being depressed, Ponette is also feeling very alone in this setting due to her mother being “lost” and her father being away, but these feelings are exacerbated by the fact that she has no friends at this school due to her being picked on and her cousins choosing to play with other kids. This isolation only deepens her feelings of depression and she begins to feel hopeless about her mother ever returning.
Ponette spends a majority of her time waiting for her mother’s return, but when that doesn’t work, she decides to take matters into her own hands and reverts to the stage of bargaining. She tries to lure her mother back to her through gifts, presents, and even magic, but her efforts are not fruitful. These behaviors continue until she becomes friends a little Jewish girl at summer camp who convinces her that she has been going about things all wrong. Her mother is not gone, God has her, and to get her back, they need to convince God to return her. Her new friend puts her through a series of tests in order to prove herself to God and win his favor by becoming a “child of God”. Despite her best efforts, nothing is working. In the last scene of the movie, we see Ponette visiting her mother’s grave and attempting to scratch her out of the earth.
Her little fingers cannot manage this so she eventually gives up and, finally, loses hope. Though it is not clear if that she has actually understood the concept of death, in a bittersweet moment, Ponette accepts the fact that her mother is gone and she is never returning. Behaviors, Culture, and Rituals The behaviors that Ponette presents as she copes with the death of her mother are very typical to a young child. She has never experienced a loss before and when she does, she is given no guidance on how to navigate through it and cope with her grief. At first, she is apathetic to the situation and believes that nothing has changed, but as the adults around her try to make her understand what is happening, all it does is confuse her. She lives in a time when Christianity is a big part of current culture, but it has never been a part of her life, so as a girl who has never been exposed to religion, she does not understand the metaphorical nature of her aunt telling her that her mother is with Jesus and takes this literally. She believes that her mother is gone and that she simply needs to wait. Ponette is different from other children in this respect, however, because she is far more patient than a child her age is expected to be.
Despite her maturity in this respect, she loses patience and decides that her mother is lost and it is up to her to lure her mother back. And how do you lure someone back? With gifts, of course! And if that doesn’t work, try magic. Finally, if all else fails, do what everyone else around you is doing and pray.
She does all this in an almost ritualistic way as if she is trying to appease a spirit rather than trying to get her mother back. When all her secular plans work, she decides to take a more religious approach. Being at a theological school, all the adults tell her that her mother is in heaven with God, so she believes she must direct her attention to God and perform the acts and routines needed to be in his favor. The actions she takes in this film are rational in her mind and it is normal for a child so young and with such a large imagination and so little understanding of the world to believe that all this would help, especially if she has no one mature in her life willing to tell her otherwise. Despite being normal, these behaviors are not very successful because they neither bring Ponette’s mother back nor help Ponette come to terms with her loss.
Warning Signs and Interventions In this film, Ponette displays concerning levels of sorrow for such a young girl. The emotions she deals with would be considered normal if they were directed at the loss of her mother, but rather these feelings are due to her constantly being degraded and debased by the other children. She is bullied over something she does not understand and cannot control, she is ostracized by those around her and left to her own devices in a world she does not know. These circumstances can be potentially scarring for a child this young and she is very obviously disturbed by it. Many times in the film, you see her withdrawn and to herself, and at times you even see her cry, such as when she burrows alone crying in her bed or when she sobs in a field. Though there are adults around with the ability and the intent to truly help her, their efforts are misguided as they believe she is simply a young girl mourning the loss of her mother. They try and comfort her by assuring her that her mother is in heaven and that she is with God.
This, of course, does not really console her as the majority of her misery comes from her being bullied, and though she does miss her mother, she has only been recently introduced to Christianity, so these words have more of an effect of those saying them than they do on her. I would have recommended that the teachers wanting to help her actually took the time to listen to what was ailing her rather than just assume for themselves. During this time, it was not common to see psychiatric help for feelings of grief, so I would have suggested she be taken out of the situation she was in, or steps be taken to better her conditions. She is still very young and still very impressionable, and though she came out of this situation in one piece, a less resilient child could have amassed major social and emotional scars during this time.
Realistic or Not? The process of bereavement portrayed in Ponette was extremely chaotic and turbulent, but altogether normal. The only part of the story that was a complete departure from the reality of coping with grief was how Ponette ultimately came to terms with the fact that her mother was never returning. Yes, she realized that everything she had tried was not working, but what finally nailed it home for her was when her mother actually appeared.
After she gave up hope and began to cry for her mother, her mother actually appeared and began to comfort her. They spend a majority of the day together having the conversations Ponette has dreamed about and At the end of their time together, she walks Ponette back to school and tells her that she needs to live her life and not be so sad all the time. This touching scene may seem like a vivid fabrication from the mind of an imaginative young child, but we are given evidence that this is not the case. When Ponette returns to her school, she carries with her a sweater that she did not go to the cemetery with. A sweater given to her by her mother. This means that this was not just a daydream, Ponette’s mother was actually present.
Though it is not unusual for people in mourning to believe they have seen and even spoken to a departed loved one, the fact that something tangible came out of Ponette’s interaction is an unrealistic addition to an otherwise rational story. The fleeting supernatural element of this film is a departure from what we have seen so far and is neither in line with the reality of grief and mourning, nor in line with reality itself. TheoriesThe grief process displayed by Ponette in this film is incredibly consistent with James William Worden’s four tasks of mourning. This theory is in four steps, or tasks, and is meant to be followed under no particular order of timeframe.
The tasks are: to accept the reality of the loss, to work through the pain and grief, to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and to find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new lifePonette begins her process in task two as she adjusts to life without her mother. She does so by rationalizing that her mother is simply lost and learning to live in her absence. She manages to have fun with her cousins and learn new things from her aunt. Though she is awaiting the return of her mother, she learns to live without her and make do on her own in an unfamiliar situation. Next, she goes into task two. She works through her grief by taking matters into her own hands and working to get her mother back. The gifts she leaves, the magic spells she does, the prayers she says, these are all juvenile ways of trying to take control of a situation in which she is ultimately powerless.
She spends the majority of the film in this phase but finally moves on to task three when she is visited by her mother in the cemetery. There she learns to accept the fact that her mother is gone and comes to terms with the fact that she will never see her again and must go on with her life. The final task is not directly shown but can be infered as she is a very resilient girl. She will be able to move on from this loss but she will never forget her mother or the bond they had. The sweater she was given will also act as a link between the two of them as Ponette grown up and moves on in her life.