Raw, vulnerable and unflinching, Rebecca Lloyd-Evans and Lisa Selby’s Blue Bag Life poignantly explores addiction and the idea of being a ‘mother’.
‘Diary’, as opposed to ‘documentary’, is perhaps a more apt word for Rebecca Lloyd-Evans and Lisa Selby’s Blue Bag Life. It’s an art project, a collection of photographs, video footage and written materials that form a poetic and deeply personal look at the power of addiction.
Lisa Selby, an artist and lecturer, has always felt uncomfortable with the word ‘mother’. She has an estranged relationship with her own, Helen, who didn’t raise her and struggled with heroin addiction throughout her life. But just as Lisa begins the journey of understanding who Helen is and what made her leave Lisa behind, Helen dies of cancer. It’s then up to Lisa to chronicle the life of a woman she never knew as ‘mum’ through photo albums, memories from those who knew her, and the things she left behind in her dingy basement flat.
There’s an intimacy to Blue Bag Life that’s really powerful. In an age where almost everybody shares almost everything about their lives online for the entertainment of others, there’s something quietly affecting about watching Lisa’s footage of the moments she filmed purely for herself. From Helen’s funeral service to snippets of intimate phone calls with her partner, it all coalesces into something that feels really raw and honest. Like a diary entry.
Blue Bag Life is ultimately about Lisa’s search for understanding, and the titular blue bags are the catalyst for it. The bags contain a substance that has poisoned two of her most important relationships and indelibly shaped the woman she has become. Heroin is an intrinsic part of Lisa’s life, with her mother ravaged by using it and her partner Elliot incarcerated for dealing it. It’s something she doesn’t personally use, but she understands the control it has.
Because Lisa also understands the power of addiction. In her journey of getting to know Helen, reconciling who she was with the idea of a ‘mother’, and coming to terms with the relationship – or lack thereof – between them, Lisa is also able to understand her partner Elliot better. There’s a section of the film where she films him, quite unashamedly, using heroin and she’s heard crying in the background. The film is very raw in its depiction of what being a heroin user means, of the struggle, the desperation, the squalor and the danger. Lisa’s is a life surrounded by elements of darkness, but the filmultimately emphasises her strength and ability to understand, see through and not succumb to them completely.
It’s a film about self-discovery, self-awareness and also self-healing. Lisa may never understand her mother, but she knows now what being a mum means to her, and the film embraces her willingness to learn that and be incredibly vulnerable on that journey. Blue Bag Life is a really raw and effective look at addiction, estrangement and also reconciliation. It’s not a film about happiness, but rather the search for it, and the search for understanding and compassion. It’s hopeful, poignant and a testament to Lisa’s creativity, vulnerability and bravery that she’s willing to share something so personal with the world.
Blue Bag Life is in UK cinemas from 7th April, 2023.