Mother: A darkly comic chill
by Alexandra Gabrižová
- Kadri Kõusaar’s third feature film, a claustrophobic film dealing with one woman’s solitude, was screened as part of the Discoveries line-up of the Warsaw Film Festival
Mother [+see also:
film profile], the third feature by Estonia’s Kadri Kõusaar, is set in a small town where, following a robbery, everybody suddenly seems suspicious of committing a crime. After premiering at Tribeca in April, the Estonian Oscar candidate screened last week in the Discoveries section at the 32nd Warsaw Film Festival.
Inspired by Kevin McCan’s radio drama, Coma, the film tells the tale of Elsa (Tiina Mälberg), whose adult son, Lauri (Siim Maaten), has been left in a coma following a near-fatal incident while withdrawing money. What happened that night and where the money is now are the key aspects of the local police investigation – in addition to the mystery of a stolen sweater. Using the tools of a Fargo-like comedy style, the film deals with the disturbing subject of a woman who finds herself trapped in a small place with a husband who barely speaks and a comatose son lying in the bedroom upstairs.
The vast majority of Mother takes place in and around Elsa’s home and neighbourhood. Elsa spends her days taking care of Lauri, gardening and making coffee for visitors, all coming in effort to figure out where money could be located. Lauri's unresponsive condition makes him a virtual conduit for the whole town's psychoanalytic projections.
A simple form and cold-faced acting styles – which may bring the characters of Aki Kaurismäki’s to mind – are used with great effect to create comedy alongside personal drama. Elsa watches the outside world through windows – shooting the whole film almost entirely under one roof, Kõusaar does well to evoke claustrophobia. Even though Elsa is obsessed with having everything clean and in order, her home – based on cold interior colours, chilly lights and heavy pieces of furniture – is so atmospherically vivid that you can almost smell its lack of warmth. Elsa cooks and bakes; her garden is beautifully made. But these habits are based on a mechanical routine: the passion, if it was ever there, has already disappeared.
Produced by Meteoriit, Mother’s script, penned by Leana Jalukse and Al Wallcat, was offered to Kõusaar after it won a national screenwriting competition. The director was already well known for her debut feature Magnus (2007), the first Estonian film ever to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival (in the Un Certain Regard section). Following The Arbiter [+see also:
film profile] (2013), the story of a scientist who unravels when his girlfriend leaves him, Mother confirms Kõusaar’s status as one of Estonia’s must-see filmmakers.