Claudia is a loner. She lives by herself, has no family or friends, and even lacks any connections with her coworkers. The Amazing Catfish is about her finding love. With it, she also finds a family and friends that will last her a lifetime.
Claudia meets Martha and her four children at the hospital while she was resting after a bout with appendicitis. They are both released on the same day, so Martha offers to feed Claudia dinner. Claudia winds up spending the night. Instead of going home the next morning, she takes the two youngest of the group to school. She does this a few times and eventually nestles herself into their family. They all confide in her and depend on her to take care of errands when they cannot. And they all visit Martha together each time she is readmitted into the hospital.
Martha, a strong single mother of four children by three different fathers, is HIV-positive. Not that the family particularly minds; they all continue to grow and maintain a positive attitude up until the end. Claudia is able to fill in the gaps and act as a stand-in mother when the youngest of the bunch have childhood curiosities, such as what it’s like to kiss someone on the lips or what happens when you drink too much rum. She also becomes one of the kids, needing help in the ocean because she cannot swim or turning to Mom when she needs a confidante of her own. Claudia becomes the daughter Martha never had.
One aspect of the film that strikes me is that there are no adult male leads in this movie. The eldest sister claims to have a boyfriend, but he is only briefly acknowledged. Martha’s husband has passed, as has Claudia’s father, and so the family functions without a patriarch. What I once dismissed as coincidence I now think was a subtle but firm feminist message; Saint-Luce added no male characters because, plain and simple, Martha and Claudia did not need one.
Though we do not witness Martha’s final moments, this movie will still move you. Her final words to her children are touching and heartfelt, most notably her words to Claudia; they will stick with you long after you leave the theater. The overarching emotion in the film is Claudia’s joy, though the tears streaking down your face after leaving the theater may lead you to a different conclusion. Claudia may rarely show overt happiness, but she now has a reason to get up in the morning, a purpose in life. She has found a place where she feels safe and knows that her new family will always accept her with open arms.
On the surface, it is easy to feel sentiment for a family after the loss of a loved one. Frequent moviegoers can attest that stories about the terminally ill abound, however, this story is different, and it quickly became my favorite film of this year’s Miami International Film Festival. This is not simply an emotional investment into Martha’s family. We also feel specifically for Claudia who has found love in her life and not in the typical rom-com way. She finally has someone, or several someones, with whom she can share her life. What could be more joyous than that? –Zoë Brown