The American documentary “Relative” in the 2022 Toronto Hot Docs Festival deals with multi generational sexual abuse in an Italian-American family. Home videos and film portray seemingly happy families but beneath the floating iceberg the pervasiveness of sexual abuse lurks ready to inflict psychological damage.
Tracy Arcabasso Smith takes us along a shocking voyage of sexual abuse, not only her own but that of four generations of her family circle. Just about all family members are victims. The older generations simply prefer to not talk about it sweeping it under the carpet and “moving on”. That is what they say but are they emotionally devastated by it? They prefer not to let on.
In previous generations there was a realization sharing details of sexual abuse in the family might split it apart so given that and the reluctance of children to disclose sexual abuse as they felt it was their fault the anger of the iceberg below the surface was ignored. However as the voice of a “relative” at the beginning of the documentary says we are only as sick as our secrets and the more secrets we have the sicker we are. Even Arcabasso Smith 35 years later refuses to disclose the family member(s) that abused her. However she is at least working to deal with it through seeing a therapist and by making the documentary. Having personally dealt with a toxic working environment I found help in dealing with it by writing a “fictional book” about it. Creativity as a healing process.
It is probably best to stop here and let you hear what her family thinks and says about sexual abuse. It is understandable their reluctance but how healthy is it? It is somewhat disappointing that Arcabasso Smith doesn’t whistle blow about her abusers but that is a choice we must accept. At least she acknowledges her confusion and hurt and is not willing to simply suck it up. Her courage in making this film may perhaps make those suffering from “relative sexual abuse” understand the patterns of familial sexual abuse and better know how to deal with it.
“Relative” can be seen in theatre at Hot Docs on May 8 and as of May 2 it can be screened virtually for 5 days after that but geoblocked to Canada.
Tracy Arcabasso Smith is the director.
RKS Film Rating 92/100.
P.S. I noticed in these home movies many men were violent towards women although it was supposedly in jest.