Published May 04, 2012Back in the late '20s, when Canadian author Mazo de la Roche broke into the literary scene with her impassioned depiction of rural aristocracy, Jalna, Canadian writers, particularly women, weren't often successful south of the border. As noted in Maya Gallus's precise, distinctly NFB,documentary, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche notes, "We didn't have a Margaret Atwood back then... Mazo was the closest thing we had to that level of success."
As such, her identity became the subject of intrigue to readers unwilling to accept her cool response to personal probing with, "everything I am is in my books." Exacerbating this was her intense need for privacy, dismissing questions or inquiries into her personal life while ignoring any comment or query that she perceived as silly or frivolous.
Gallus's documentary, which mixes interview footage of literary experts and family members with re-enactments and confessional speeches from an actress portraying de la Roche, speculates about the life and identity of the writer, with care not to make any assumptions or limit perspective. Her upbringing and life with cousin and lifelong companion Caroline Clement are discussed, as is her literary career, which fizzled out towards the end when critics found her endless series of Jalna books repetitive and tiresome.
Smartly, only de la Roche's words are used to describe her disposition, while any other hearsay is highlighted as such, coming from the mouths of literary analysts making an argument for how the author identified with her male characters. Mazo's adopted daughter only adds to the mystery of the famed Canadian woman's identity, saying that she never knew the particulars surrounding her adoption and didn't believe her mother and Caroline had a Sapphic relationship.
Running at a TVO-friendly 52 minutes, this occasionally quaint biography is packed full of information and compelling interviews. And even though the re-enactments and pointed quotes from the actress portraying de la Roche take some getting used to, everything is handled with the utmost respect for the subject without sacrificing integrity. (NFB)