When Magenta Baribeau asked the audience during the Q&A how many people were childless, about 85% stuck their hands up. Maman? Non merci! (dir. Magenta Baribeau) is a film that preaches to the choir, though it is a sermon few have heard. Through interviews, the film looks at the messages that women who choose not to have children get and how these women respond.
The film begins with Baribeau talking about her personal reasons for pursuing the topic. At the age of 30, she feels like there are too many opinions over her uterus. Her decision not to have children is challenged by her family and by strangers alike, and she is dismissed with “Oh you’ll change your mind.” The film then focuses on the attitudes of women who range in age from late 20s to 80, and two men (one of whom is in a couple), who are childfree. Most of the subjects are from Quebec, but a few come from France and Belgium.
The interviews are grouped thematically, though the themes are never explicitly stated. These include why did you decide to be childless, how do you find value in life without children, and who will take care of you when you are old. Framing each set are the words of Isabelle Tilmant, a psychologist from Belgium who wrote a book called Epanouie avec ou sans enfant. She provides generalizations based on her experiences speaking to women who speak to her about their decision.
The speakers have a great range of experiences. Overall, the responses were articulate and thoughtful, and laced with much humour. I liked hearing the philosophical and academic arguments, especially those that address the choice as a feminist perspective, from University of Ottawa professor Lucie Joubert, author of “L’envers du landau.” I was equally interested in what French author Véronique Cazot, had to say about what the French think of childless women. Her experiences were put into the graphic novel “Et Toi, Quand, est-ce que tu t’y mets?”
The film has a strong Quebec feel. People aren’t dolled up, but address the camera from their day to day lives. One woman is seen cleaning out the liter boxes of a cat refuge (no, she isn’t the owner of a hundred cats as I initially thought). One is on a camping trip with her partner. Another couple speaks while sitting outside on a sunny day in a public park. Their experiences are diverse.
The film presents childfree as an active choice and puts it in a positive light. It gives those who have made this decision a vehicle for presenting and explaining their views. The film does not address women who want children but can not have them, nor does it include women who have lost children. It does not spend much time on the strong ambivalence many women feel, pulled entirely to want children and not want them simultaneously. While these voices are absence, no documentary could cover every possible case for a woman to be childless.
The film is less a piece of propaganda then it is a affirming statement. Childfree women are hounded for their choice and often feel alone for it. It almost seems as radical as it must have once seemed to suggest that women shouldn’t get married. Although there are a few rough edits, this film has an important message and one that is rarely addressed. I was interested in what drives women to choose to be childfree and also happy to see that those who reach this decision can do so as an active choice. Showing the stigma around the decision not to have children as well as sharing the carefully thought out reasons behind it is a much needed spotlight.
Maman, Non Merci is playing in the RIDM. It played November 15 and November 17 at Cinema Excentris. 5:30 p.m. In French with English subtitles.