Martha & Ethel

The nannies profiled in director Johnstone and co-producer Barbara Ettinger's absorbing documentary - Ethel, a black woman born in the Deep South, who worked for the Ettingers; and Martha, Johnstone's mother substitute, a former Rhine maiden who emigrated to the US in the mid-'30s - couldn't come from more different worlds, or embody more polarised values. Yet their lives ran curiously parallel. The film cuts between both them, incorporating archive footage (M├Ądchen in Uniform for Martha), photographs and contemporary music, together with extensive interviews and reflections from the nannies' now grown-up charges and employers. Ettinger takes Ethel back to South Carolina; Martha, likewise, is taken back to Oberkirch where, in an open carriage, she's feted by the mayor and dances a jig of joy that was a long time coming. The two women were born a couple of years apart in the first decade of the century; each struck out alone in her 30s, almost single-handedly raising someone else's large family. Seeing them in their 90s brings home very powerfully what can only be described as the workings of destiny in our lives.

By: WH

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