Isn’t a relationship between a parent and a child all about unconditional love? Perhaps it’s not. Perhaps there are many conditions that are hiding in plain sight. After all, it’s all a matter of exchange, isn’t it? Or perhaps sometimes one realizes that no amount of unconditional love can protect a child from the world’s cruelty.
The power dynamics of family life can be very challenging to discern and this is what Sharisse Zeroonian’s The Mouse in the Bread tackles in a little over an hour. We follow the lives of Lili (Sharisse Zeroonian) and her parents, Miriam (Louise Mara) and John (Alexander Hauck), as they tread the milestones of their everyday responsibilities. Zeroonian creatively writes, directs and portrays a teenager who is brilliant with math and music, but has difficulty navigating her social life. It should be noted here that the initial impression the audience gets is indicative of a supportive environment created to encourage Lili to express herself. This environment is established by Miriam and John, but also by Lili’s cousin, Kevork (Miguel Velazquez).
This caring environment collapses, however, when one of those dear family members disturbs the balance by committing a crime. While in the beginning Lili and her father get along in every level, for instance, Lili eventually realizes that his participation in her upbringing has been almost nonexistent. So, even if he ties a tie for her and then teaches her how to dance, the 17-year-old Lili admits that his absence is undeniable and that any attempts to change this will be futile.
Lili’s mother, on the other hand, has been there every step of the way. Although she is obviously unhappy with her marriage, Miriam strives to protect Lili by any means necessary because she loves her child in a way only a mother can. As she says to her: “I wouldn’t trade you for anything, I hope you know that.” So, when people used to tell her that “something wasn’t right with [Lili]” or that she “was slow or had social problems,” Miriam’s response to this day is “fucking idiots, they don’t know anything.” It’s safe to say, therefore, that Miriam accepts Lili just the way she is.
This is also demonstrated during one of her friend’s visits. While the guest boasts about her daughter, Lili starts singing a song. The guest, a representative of society, non-verbally judges Lili; her facial expressions convey her understanding of Lili as a weird kid. Miriam, however, sings with her until the very end, while smiling and laughing; her support is unwavering.
That is until that aforementioned turning point. After that, Miriam finds Lili to be a “fucking weird kid” like everyone else. She even apologizes for her daughter’s bizarre behavior because at this point she can’t deal with it; she’s neither patient nor kind anymore. Perhaps Miriam realizes that Lili won’t be able to make it without society’s approval. Or perhaps, she feels that despite her constant efforts, she has failed both as a wife and a mother.
Regardless, the harmonious family life we witness in the beginning gradually dissolves. Being stripped off any type of support, Lili is left alone in a world that doesn’t accept her. In this way, the mouse in the bread is symbolically pointing back at her: like the mouse, Lili is the Other that exists in a space that she doesn’t belong to. By the end, therefore, we reach the conclusion that the world outside our own bedrooms is a cruel world indeed.
The Mouse in the Bread is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.