Friday, 30 December 2011

#17 Russia — Mother and Son (1997)




Why I chose this: For me, Russia is easily the most difficult country to pick one film from. Of the seven films which I call my absolute favourites, four are Russian. In the end, I picked Mother and Son, as I regard it as the most under-appreciated of the four.


Russian and Soviet cinema has consistently produced some of the most seminal and interesting artists in the world. The same industry which cemented an editorial language that persists today with films like Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin proceeded to destroy it with Sokurov's Russian Ark. Cinematic techniques were invented left, right and centre in Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera; mise en scene reinvented in Parajanov's Colour of Pomegranates; the medium of film raised to its highest peak (in this writer's opinion) by Tarkovsky. I also believe that Russian cinema perfected emotional art in 1994 with Sokurov's Mother and Son.


The plot is paper-thin; a doting son nurses his dying mother in her final day on Earth. Rather than telling a story, it tells a relationship, an emotion, a part of human life. It accomplishes this with minimal, poignant dialogue and some of the most beautiful images I've seen.


Much of the film is shot through textured glass, which distorts everything and gives an ethereal, dreamlike quality to the visuals; many of the shots look more like moving expressionist paintings than live action.


The extreme minimalism and distortions make the film seem like it's from another world, where all we have is the long grass swaying in the wind, ourselves, a loved one and some faraway notion that life might elsewhere exist. In terms of other contemplative cinema, it is more akin to the pseudo-apocalyptic and starkly beautiful worlds of Bela Tarr (especially his most recent masterpiece The Turin Horse) to the ultra-realism of Chantal Akerman or the mystical colourfulness of Weerasethakul.


There isn't too much one can (or should) say about Mother and Son. A famous director once said something along the lines of 'if a film can be described in words, it can't be truly great' (I'd love to know exactly what it was if anyone knows). This seems rather apt in this case; Mother and Son can't be explained or described, it can only be felt and lived.


Anyone who enjoys slow-moving, emotional films owes it to themselves to see this as soon as possible. It is the most tender and beautiful picture I have encountered, I hope I can lead others to witnessing it with this review.


Also recommended from Russia/Soviet Union:
Andrei Tarkovsky — All of his films are among the best in the world
Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark, The Sun)
Elem Klimov (Come and See)
Sergei Eisenstein (Strike, Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky)
Sergei Parajanov (Colour of Pomegranates, Legend of the Surami Fortress)
Akira Kurosawa (Dersu Uzala)
Mikhail Kalatozov (Soy Cuba, The Cranes are Flying)
Larisa Shepitko (The Ascent, Wings)

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