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Review: Water Children (2011)

Directed by: Aliona van der Horst | 74 minutes | documentary

In 2009, the Japanese-Dutch pianist and performance artist Tomoko Mukaiyama unveiled her work of art “Wasted” in her native Japan, a kind of cathedral of 12,000 white dresses that she had drenched in (her own) menstrual blood. She thought it was high time that there was a little more openness about “that blood between your legs” that no one talks about. “It’s not the same blood we see on television or in the news. It’s not aggressive, but a completely different kind of blood. ” We don’t realize every day that all that blood stands for “life that had it in it to be born, but was washed away,” as a Japanese man who comes to see the artwork aptly puts it. Mukaiyama, the mother of a teenage daughter herself, was inspired for her exhibition by the death of her husband, the Dutch photographer Philip Mechanicus. Filmmaker Aliona van der Horst was in turn inspired by the artist for her documentary “Water Children” (2011). The film offers a moving look at the many facets of the miracle of life.

After the first acquaintance with Mukaiyama and her artwork, the artist and Van der Horst try to elicit reactions from visitors to the exhibition. The confrontation with the blood-stained dresses touches many people’s hearts. Some of the usually quite closed Japanese get a lump in the throat. Mukaiyama calls on women all over the country to imitate her and tell their story and that has generated a lot of reactions. Not everyone wants (or dares) to talk about it openly – it is still something very intimate – but others feel relief when they tell their story. For example, women who do not want to get pregnant, or women who have had one or more miscarriages, or who have lost children who were already born. Also those who have waited too long and are now desperately trying to become mothers are also discussed. Another woman was never given the opportunity to become a mother because her uterus had to be removed at an early age. All of them are inspired by Mukaiyama to tell their story (some women have never shared their secret before) and share their grief.

What we have felt coming for a while becomes clear in the course of the film: director Aliona van der Horst is not so intrigued by Mukaiyama’s artwork for nothing. At the insistence of her interlocutor, she reveals that she has been trying to conceive for eight years in vain. A revelation that – even if you see it coming in the distance – hits like a bomb. This is due to the honest way in which the conversations are conducted. Both women have a lot of respect for each other and it can be felt. That is why they dare to expose themselves in front of the camera. When Van der Horst says that all her unborn children live on in her fantasy, and she sometimes sees them playing in the room, then that does something to you. Just like the closing scene showing the Buddhist ritual of the “water children”. Numerous small statues are neatly arranged in a long row. Some wear cloth clothes, others only wear a “jacket” of stone. The figurines symbolize all the children who are no longer there. Because they were born prematurely, were born still, were never born. The row of images will remain on your retina for a long time.

“Water Children” is a modest documentary with a very personal touch. Sincere, moving and recognizable for all women, but certainly also men, who have ever had or still have a desire to have children. Somehow filmmaker Aliona van der Horst herself hoped to stay out of the picture, but precisely because she also involves herself in it, her beautiful film has even more impact. A heartwarming and touching ode to all the life that could have been born but never saw the light of day.

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