The windows of the soul. The lamps of the body. More than any other organ, the eye — and, by extension, the sense of sight — is emphasized in countless cultures and art forms: from the Nazar to the mystical third eye to close-up shots in films like Blade Runner (1982) and Psycho (1960). It even surfaces unmentioned like in that one conversation between Sister Sarah Joan and Ladybird of Greta Gerwig’s feature debut. Sitting across each other with both arms draped on the table between them, the nun famously inquires, “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing — love and attention?”
There’s a similar sentiment to be found in Mary Oliver’s Upstream, a collection of essays published the year prior. Even Ocean Vuong roams these circles, declaring that: “In a world myriad as ours, the gaze is a singular act: to look at something is to fill your whole life with it, if only briefly.” The eye is both an esteemed organ and a symbol. But what if the object of its affection isn’t what it seems? What if it prompts a closer look; a double, even a quadruple take? What does that say about the eye in and of itself? Bristling with an assemblage of Janus-faced illustrations, A Mind Sang/A Mãe de Sangue (2020) presents a narrative that threatens to unravel its viewers in the process of their viewing.
Director Vier Nev utilizes a neuroscientific phenomenon known as pareidolia to craft this intricate piece. The condition, defined by a tendency to perceive false images in patterns and objects or hidden messages in music, grants each illustration an almost-anamorphic appearance, which, in turn, allows the viewer to access a coexisting pair of narratives. In short: A mother’s past and present twists and folds into fragmental visions of her soon-to-be-born baby’s future.
The duplicitous nature of the film at once challenges the viewer’s perception and elevates their role as a witness while harking back to its central themes of rebirth and transformation. At times confusing, Nev’s style of storytelling imbues each frame with the kind of connectivity allegorical to that between a mother and child, imparting future rewatches with the same enchantment conjured at first sight. This duality is deployed even before the animation begins — in the film’s name. The Portuguese title (A Mãe de Sangue) centres the body in contrast to its English translation (A Mind Sang), which pivots on, well, the mind. The intrigue of fertility integrates with the disquietude of the intangible — or that which is yet to be tangible.
These feelings of curiosity and dread have been two of three driving forces behind several ongoing conversations surrounding pregnancy, childbearing, and specifically maternity care throughout the process for Black mothers within the online Black community for some time now. The third? Anger due to the likelihood of death during childbirth, of which Black mothers are five times more vulnerable than the average White mother. Such conversations have recently reignited following the death of Black London-based Youtuber Nicole Thea who tragically passed during childbirth along with her unborn son Reign. Thea and her partner had been chronicling their experiences via her Youtube channel and their Instagram accounts before the tragedy occurred, with some posts still due publication after her passing. Though the cause of death is unclear, Thea seems to be yet another statistic in a lengthy record of them. This disturbing possibility manifests a duality that underscores racial bias within the medical profession while threatening to divest both her and her son of their humanity.
A Mind Sang/A Mãe de Sangue floods the screen with swathes of colour despite its initial monochrome conception, a choice that allowed the director to “bring more life into the film.” The colour red, in particular, plays a significant role despite its sparing utilization, evoking an effective allusion to blood. In conversation with Vimeo, he reflects on these scenes, stating, “First as fire and then as water, blood represents death or birth.”
The score (composed by Yanis El-Masri) further enhances every scene, a symphony of wind, brass, and string that flutters, soars, or bellows depending on the mood of the moment. It complements the inescapably erratic nature of the short, accentuating its introspective qualities. And therein lies the underlying beauty of A Mind Sang/A Mãe de Sangue: its palpable fullness and the ways it manipulates this to ensnare the viewer until the very end, both in spite and because of the visual chaos it possesses.
Naomi Alexander invites you on a worldly exploration through the lens of short films every month, weaving tapestries where life and art collide. Back on Twitter, though, she’s normal. Follow her @miyaisms.