Australian short Tangles and Knots, written and directed by Renée Marie Petropoulos and produced by Janet Brown and Yingna Lu, is a story inspired by the filmmaker’s own adolescent relationship with her mother, a bond apparently less maternal and more sisterly. In an early scene, the camera closely frames the mother ritually grooming her teenage daughter – painting her nails, waxing her underarms and brushing her hair, as she girlishly advises her daughter on how to deal with the inevitable advance of pubescent boys with only one thing on their minds.
Their large house, complete with a pool is the setting for the daughter’s birthday party, during which most of the drama takes place. It’s the classic teenage pool party – Jello shots, scantily clad bodies and a pulsating electronic soundtrack to perfectly underscore the frivolous hedonism prioritised highly in the lives of these over-privileged teenagers. But beneath the sheen of their wealthy materialism, lie the deeper and darker drives of their egos - love, jealousy, shame and even violence.
It is easy to infer here that the lessons imparted from mother to daughter are predicated on the realities of her own unfulfilled life, something she is trying to reconcile with in the present, as she competitively flirts with her daughter’s male suitors. She does more than live vicariously through her daughter, taking the extra step to actually share her daughter’s life and social circle. At times, the girl seems perfectly comfortable with her mother’s capriciousness, but then in the blink of an eye she displays embarrassment when confiding in her friends about her mother’s behaviour.
Tangles and Knots is an honest reflection on womanhood, familial responsibility and class. As the title suggests, the boundaries in this relationship are complicated and blurred, and there is a key moment that occurs in the film that disturbingly highlights this confusion. But the hairbrush running through tangled hair for the second time in the film, might just tell us all that we need to know…