Maricarmen

Maricarmen is a look at the life of Maricarmen Graue. A professional cellist, she has congenital glaucoma, meaning from birth she has been visually impaired, and despite the ups and downs of various surgeries and treatments, has eventually went completely blind. Despite this, she lives independently on her own, and makes her living as a music teacher.

The focus of the film is Maricarmen’s zest for life. Running marathons, swimming beneath waterfalls, writing her autobiography, painting, sculpting, playing in a rock band and memorising symphonies to play in an orchestra. She celebrates life as an artist in so many different ways.

Yet because of her disability, both she and this film are caught on the horns of how she is perceived by others, as a blind woman in a sighted world. The film tries diligently to steer around the ‘inspirational’ trope all disabled people are expected to fulfil for an able-bodied audience. And in real life, Maricarmen herself says she struggles sometimes to know if she does things for her own joy and inner satisfaction, or because she feels she must, that she has to prove she can.

A multi-media artist who can memorise symphonies is a subject worthy of a documentary all on her own. And her spirit is uplifting as someone enthusiastically engaged with the world.

Nor does she or the film try to portray her as having ‘overcome’ her disability. Her disability is part of her and informs her art. It is as much part of her humanity as her creativity, and her determination to live independently is part of her character, neither a victory or defeat over this integral part of herself.

The central relationship in the film for me was that between Maricarmen and her mother. Her mother is fiercely independent, and she raised Maricarmen to be the same. Maricarmen’s father died when she was a teenager and her mother was determined to remain financially independent while she raised her kids alone. Their relationship has both a mutual admiration and tension because of this emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency.

Her mother raised her as though she were no different to other sighted children, and there is the dual result for Maricarmen that it taught her to always find a way to achieve what she wanted and to hold her expectations of herself as high as for anyone else, but conversely she didn’t always understand as a child why she was different, how visually impaired she in fact was, and why she found things so much more difficult than other children. That balance, between encouraging her daughter to realise all she was capable of, and providing comfort and support was a challenge to strike and was not always successfully found.

This continues into their relationship today, even as an adult Maricarmen craves an emotional comfort from her mother, and her mother seems almost afraid to give it to her, as though if she focuses on anything other than passing on her steely spine, it will have a detrimental effect on Maricarmen. Her mother wants to know that when she is gone, her daughter will be able to look after herself, that she won’t have to worry. And yet here and now, while they are together, she could maybe also do with reaching out and letting her know how much she loves her.

A thoroughly enjoyable documentary exploring the life and character of an extraordinary artist with her own experiences and challenges in the world.