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  • U
  • Drama
  • 1997
  • 71 mins

Mother And Son

Mother And Son

Synopsis

Alexander Sokurov's non-narrative exploration of a son's love for his dying mother - the first in a projected trilogy of films on family relations

About

Right at the end of winter, in an isolated woodland cottage somewhere near the coast, a dying mother (Geyer) and her adult son (Ananischnov) have the same dream - a dream about walking along a path followed by a stranger.

Later the son takes his mother to a bench outside and both look at some old postcards that she received as a younger woman. Then the son carries her on a walk along a path, stopping to rest at various stages. After returning to the cottage, they talk about love and death, and the son puts his mother to bed for "a little nap". He goes out for another walk, this time alone and disconsolate, before returning to address a final message to his lifeless mother.

Does Mother And Son represent a dreamy reverie or a stark reality? Is the mother flesh and blood, or an apparition conjured by her son's memories? Is she alive, is she dead, or does she cross over from one state to another during the course of the film? Is the rugged terrain - on the border between forest and field, mountain and plain, land and sea, winter and spring - a place locatable on a map (and accessible by the train or ship seen in the background), or a landscape of the mind - part fairytale woodlands, part liminal limbo?

In the abstract, hermetic world that Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark, The Sun) has crafted for his film, answers to such questions remain as elusive as they are unnecessary. The background appearance of outsiders (whether the stranger mentioned in the dream, the shadowy walker glimpsed briefly through the cottage window, or the person whose crunching footsteps are clearly audible as the son lies, otherwise alone, on the forest floor) always seems a surprising, almost shocking, intrusion on the two leads' inner universe.

Here the focus is entirely on the delicate bond between mother and son. No matter that they are only sparsely characterised, that they are not even named, and that their specific roles have undergone something of a reversal, with the son cradling, carrying and swaddling his mother, feeding her with a teated bottle and even calling her "my little one".

What really matters, and comes through with absolute clarity, is their mutual love and devotion, and the aching loss that is encoded in such tenderness. Even the very landscape that they inhabit, with its mists, winds, storms and overwhelming solitude, appears a mere mirror to the couple's emotional turmoil as they face their inevitable separation.

If the plot of Mother And Son is as simple as to be almost non-existent, such bare minimalism creates a poetic space where even the minutest detail resonates with suggestive significance. Every tiny sound, from the distant rumble of unseen waves to the buzzing of an insect, has been greatly amplified. Here less is more, and everything thrills with a concentrated intensity.

Shot by Sokurov in long, leisurely takes through a series of handmade distorting filters, Mother And Son is like a sepia toned, inverted pietà - a depiction of Christ cradling the body of Mary. It's as richly textured, and at times also as static, as a master's painting. Extend to it the same patience that the son demands of his mother at the film's beginning and close, and you will be treated to a hauntingly beautiful elegy to a love that may be interrupted but never ends.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Aleksei Ananishnov, Gudrun Geyer
  • Director: Aleksandr Sokurov
  • Screen Writer: Yuri Arabov
  • Producer: Thomas Kufus
  • Photographer: Aleksei Fyodorov
  • Composer: Mikhail Ivanovich

In a nutshell

A luminous, deeply affecting walk along cinema's less travelled paths, in search of the intense bond that every son has with his mother.

by Anton Bitel

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