In ‘Mother Mountain’ writer/director Celina Stang casts a fresh take on the stresses of young motherhood and keys into the links between the indigenous and Jewish experience – review/interview

“I was writing from a very cathartic place.”


MOTHER MOUNTAIN *** (105 minutes) M
It’s hard enough being a mother without everybody picking faults in how you’re raising your kids or managing your marriage.

Tougher still is doing your very best to cope with the strains of family life only to suspect that you might, in fact, not actually not be doing a very good job of it.

That’s the emotionally perilous situation young Selene (Emilie Cocquerel in a wonderful performance) finds herself sandwiched in when her family moves to a sweet little rural town.

In an impressive debut, writer/director Celina Stang avoids histrionics in her deep etching of Selene’s bumpy relationship with her loving husband Dean (Fayssal Bazzi) and her daughter Shani (Willow Spears), who misses the life they left, and not just because she can’t get decent internet.

Despite trying her best, Selene struggles with a troubling and complicated backstory, carefully revealed to us in finely measured increments as the full picture slowly comes together.

Without pushing, Stang introduces elements of indigenous culture through the locals who tell of the local mountain and its spiritual character. Selene’s Jewish heritage also comes into play with the arrival of her well-meaning parents Linda (Anne Lambert) and Leonard (Pip Miller).

Selene’s reception to their sudden presence might be frosty, but we’re kept in two minds as to whether they are being helpful or merely meddling, one of many story points that show Stang’s love of keeping things emotionally ambivalent.

Themes of blame and self-recrimination course through Selene’s attempt to find her bearings, especially when facing hard truths about the life she tried to escape.

Performances throughout are naturalistic and believable, with young Willow Spears and Jarrah Finnerman (as her school chum, Ren) proving particularly good.

A well-directed, intimate domestic drama, dramatically solid with a raft of good turns and a lovely location shoot, the film had a strong reception at the Cannes World Film Festival last October and at this year’s Jewish International Film Festival.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t vanish into the abyss.


Shortly after the film’s release Celina Stang was kind enough to take some time out during a shopping run, hit the Zoom app on her phone and chat about the making and meaning of Mother Mountain and how its future is shaping up.

Celina Stang interview index

00:00 Describing the film;
01:00 Theme of trans-generation trauma;
01:50 Dramatic emphasis on story of mother;
03:00 Search for identity and connection to country;
03:40 Consciously avoiding cliches and stereotypes;
05:20 Shooting on her property;
06:30 Mountain as a character in the film;
07:50 Daughter/mother relationship;
08:50 Reflecting new pressures on mothers;
10:20 Connecting her own dots;
10:50 “I was writing from a very cathartic place”;
11:30 Redressing representation of Jewish families in Australian film;
12:00 Incorporating Indigenous culture of Yuin people;
14:10 Her background;
14:40 Work with ABC;
15:00 “Contempt” for drama;
16:50 Work in Fine Arts;
16:15 Getting the film off the ground;
16:50 Cross-cultural content;
17:00 Budget;
17:40 Indigenous cultural advisors and working with Yuin people;
19:45 Excising Dreamtime sequences;
20:10 Nature of consultation;
22:20 Life of the film;
22:55 Acquired By Qantas; “I don’t know why I’m more excited about that than anything”;
22:25 How the film is travelling;
22:35 “It is a slow burn; it’s not an American film”;
23:40 Love of French & Polish cinema;
24:17 “I don’t know if Australians feel that comfortable seeing themselves up there on screen”;
24:30 Australians are reluctant to celebrate local films until overseas recognition;
26:20 The Cultural Cringe continues;
27:10 The importance of connection to country;
27:50 Directing Emilie Cocquerel;
28:40 Next;
29:20 Assured direction for a debut;
30:00 Advice from Jane Campion: Story is key.