Sitting on the floor of her living room, Francine Oomen picks up one by one the books from the series that made her famous: How do I survive my vacation?, How do I survive with/without friends?, How do I survive a broken heart? She piles up dozens of titles in this way, until the writer is almost hidden behind the pile. A symbolic image. At the end of the documentary How do I survive – Francine Oomen breaks the silence (NTR) you can only see all those youth aid books as a long incantation of Oomen’s own fear of not being able to survive.
How I Survive was broadcast on Wednesday in the cultural documentary series The Hour of the Wolf, in which this type of writer’s portraits unfortunately seems to be becoming increasingly rare. Director Pascalle Bonnier followed the author, illustrator and designer Oomen (1960) in the creation of her to be published in November book How do we survive, a graphic novel about, we hear the writer explain to her publisher, “intergenerational trauma”.
The viewer has already heard Oomen read the beginning of a personal letter, a letter about abuse that she became the victim of from the age of thirteen: “This is going to be a difficult letter for you to read and for me to write.” […] I dared not tell anyone what happened in your conjugal bed. What story did you tell yourself? I don’t want to hear anymore: it was love.” Oomen says that her mother, by whom she felt neglected for a lifetime, was sexually abused at the same age.
When she was ten, Oomen saw her father crawling under the hedge in his dressing gown at night. Once he married the neighbor, Oomen’s mother married the neighbor and moved to another area. There thirteen-year-old Oomen became a regular at home with a family where people were kind to each other, but where “all sorts of things happened that should not have happened”.
Relentless in her self-analysis
The abuse constantly hovers over How I Survive, but the film is above all a wonderful portrait of a woman who, at the age of sixty, makes an inventory of how that childhood trauma has affected her life. She herself was also an absent mother, she notes. She says about her daughter: “Lotte has given up her confidence in me.” (This is not a woman who can be caught making sentimental phrasing.) Her son recounts how he was annoyed every day after school about the fact that his mother could never be on time.
“The word together sets off all kinds of alarm bells for me,” says Oomen. “Something in me is going to sabotage.” She is open and at times relentless in her self-analysis, but when Bonnier cautiously inquires about a recently broken relationship, she says: “You are taking a really bad step. I said I didn’t really want to talk about it.”
How I Survive was filmed with great patience, which is necessary because Oomen is always involved in something: writing, crafting, drawing, weaving, hoeing, ramming something in the garden, baking a cake – as if the world comes to a standstill when they a minute of idleness. In the meantime she says things of which she also understands the symbolic meaning. At one point she buys two sheep and two lambs, but the animals jump out of her trunk and run away. “I was just socializing with them,” she tells the trader about the flight of the sheep family. “You won’t be able to get hold of that again soon,” the man observes.
Towards the end of the film, Oomen talks about the relationship between trauma and assertiveness. “The child never satisfies, no matter how much prestige it acquires, because it is fake.” She emphasizes that last word hard, which is amazing, because rarely have I seen someone on television who is so terribly real.
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