Chloe Abrahams’ “The Taste of Mango” defies easy description, delving into her complex relationship with her mother, Rozana, and grandmother, Jean. This documentary navigates suppressed violence, generational dynamics, and Abrahams’ coming-of-age journey, blending various cinematic styles from lofty depictions to raw observations, thoughtful narration to unreserved conversations, and past recollections to present moments.
Rozana emerges in a dream-like close-up, linked symbolically to the “taste of mango,” a sensory memory connecting her to her lineage. Abrahams invites us into her family’s history through intimate moments, presenting her mother’s recollections of her upbringing in Sri Lanka and their move to England, where Abrahams and her sister were raised. Rozana’s comfort on camera is initially striking, though the challenge lies in translating their profound bond for a distant audience.
Abrahams questions the possibility of capturing their intimacy, constantly adjusting her framing and emphasising the inherent presence of her filmmaking intervention. Each tonal shift prompts viewers to reconsider the film from different angles, ensuring it never settles into a predictable rhythm. Torn photos in Rozana’s album serve as poignant symbols of unexplained ruptures in their shared history.
“The Taste of Mango” is Abrahams’ first feature, influenced by her earlier short, “Mama” (2019), where she and her sister delved into fragments of their family’s past. In the documentary, Abrahams grapples more directly with the gaps in her family’s history, with torn photos representing the violence Rozana endured, leading to her departure from Sri Lanka and strained relations with Jean.
Despite this painful past, Rozana is now happily engaged and preparing for her wedding. Their deep mother-daughter love is evident in affectionate moments, but it feels insufficient against life’s challenges. When Jean visits, the film reveals underlying tensions and raises questions about her future choices.
Abrahams acknowledges the limitations of her perspective and frequently reminds viewers that she’s an outsider capturing her mother’s life through her camcorder. This self-awareness adds depth to the narrative, highlighting their shared humanity.
“The Taste of Mango” draws inspiration from cinematic pioneers like Kirsten Johnson and Agnès Varda, employing a collage-like approach to explore generational connections. Moments of self-reflection and exploration abound, with Abrahams holding an image of her grandfather’s face over her own in a mirror, representing her attempt to connect with departed ancestors through photographs.
As Abrahams films her mother, Rozana expresses gratitude for her daughter’s curiosity. The film transforms Abrahams’ personal inquiry into familial exploration, using filmmaking to untangle past assumptions from future uncertainties. Through its complexity, “The Taste of Mango” highlights the power of familial bonds and the resilience of the human spirit.