Review: Kids cope with the loss of parents in documentary ‘Beautiful Something Left Behind’

Toy figures and caskets in sand from the documentary "Beautiful Something Left Behind."
The documentary “Beautiful Something Left Behind” examines children coping with loss.
(MTV Documentary Films / Good Company Pictures)

The documentary “Beautiful Something Left Behind” examines grief from the point of view of young children (ages 5-10) who have recently lost parents. There are moments of terrible sadness in the film, of course, but also some uplift; if only the experience had more form to it.

The kids are among those being helped by Good Grief, an organization in New Jersey that provides them with what looks like light group counseling and ways to vent their feelings and confront nagging questions through directed play. We get glimpses of the home lives of some of the children.

It’s difficult to describe the film more specifically than that because it frustratingly declines to provide context. We don’t know what happened to most of the deceased parents, though sometimes we hear the kids’ versions. We don’t know much at all about the families — their histories, their circumstances — because, apart from the film eschewing interviews, we shuttle among several subjects with no sense of time, no markers to demonstrate progress or lack thereof.

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Award-winning director Katrine Philp presents the whole thing from the kids’ perspective, which is fine, but she doesn’t provide guideposts for the viewer. We hear some of their questions, but there’s little exploration of those ideas. We can’t grasp the strategies being used, apart from one uncle’s creative attempts to assist his nephew in simultaneously letting go and holding on. We can’t tell if any of the methods are working, or if the kids are learning to cope in even small ways. Not that the film is entirely objective, either, with its notable use of score.

“Beautiful Something Left Behind,” which won the documentary award at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival when the film was called “An Elephant in the Room,” serves as a snapshot of kids in emotional crises, but sadly, little more.

'Beautiful Something Left Behind'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Available Jan. 8 via virtual cinema, including Landmark Theatres