The death of a parent at almost any age leaves its mark, but the effects on very young children are especially confusing. “Beautiful Something Left Behind” is a simple, elegant documentary about children coping with such heartbreaking losses in a facility specially designed for them.
It’s a place called Good Grief, a large clapboard house in New Jersey (the film focuses on its location in Morristown, one of two in the state). In a one-on-one lesson with an adult employee, a child tries to add color to his feelings. He says he feels blue and red when he’s “sad and really crazy”. The film then shows a group therapy session with children aged six to about ten who share a wake-up room style.
We like to think that children are more emotionally open and expressive than adults. Among the moments this picture, directed by Katrine Philp, shows is how children put on brave faces and try to distract from what they are actually feeling. This is even more painful to witness than the obvious sadness of a child. It is also noticeable how the children understand how some parents achieved their goals. You can shudder at using “bad medicine” to describe the cause of your father’s death.
Philp has no conversations with the Good Grief staff. Only the children speak directly to the camera. She structures the film in a relaxed, satisfying narrative about the seasons.
It could be argued that the film needed a slightly more documentary explanation of how the facility worked – how long children stay, the goals of treatment, and so on. But ultimately, Philp cannot be blamed for emphasizing emotional engagement over exposure.
Beautiful something left behind
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. Watch virtual cinemas.