Manchevski’s Mothers ask what is truth?
by Vladan Petkovic
How does information become the truth? How do personal history, imagination, opinion and perspective shape the perception of reality? These are the main questions the Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski posits in his latest film Mothers [+see also:
interview: Milcho Manchevski
Employing a triptych structure reminiscent of his breakthrough debut Before the Rain (Golden Lion in Venice in 1994), Manchevski takes a feminine angle – not only of mothers, but also grandmothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends and wives – in an exploration of the relationship between truth and the multiple influences that form the perception of reality.
Set in modern-day Macedonia, the first part of the film, which takes place in the country’s capital Skopje, deals with two elementary school girls. Bea and Kjara report a supposed flasher to the police but, in fact, the dominant Bea, who is also from a richer family, fabricates the story and pulls in Kjara to support her claim. This leads to the imprisonment (and beating) of an innocent man. Unfortunately, what is probably the most engaging story – which tackles questions of information overload, alienation within the family and class divide – is also the shortest one.
The second story develops in the desolate southern region of Mavrovo, where a three-person film crew goes to make a documentary about rural traditions. Director Kole (Vladimir Jacev), camera operator Ana (Ana Stojanovska) and sound recordist Simon (Dmitar Gjorgjievski) visit a deserted village whose only inhabitants are an elderly brother and sister (Ratka Radmanovic and Salaetin Bilal) who haven’t spoken to each other in 16 years.
This part of the film feels too long in depicting isolation, the urban-rural divide and the fate of Macedonian women throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, but benefits from mesmerizing performances by Radmanovic and Bilal. The young Stojanovska is moreover a new talent to watch.
The first two parts take up less than half of the film’s two-hour running time, as Manchevski switches to full documentary mode in the third story about a serial killer in the small town of Kichevo in eastern Macedonia. In 2008, the country was in the focus of news stories around the world thanks to the arrest of the journalist Vlado Taneski, who raped and murdered three women in their 60s while simultaneously reporting on those crimes for his daily paper. Manchevski opts for a classical, almost TV-documentary approach, which would probably work better as a stand-alone film, given the fascinating subject matter.
“No real-life story can surpass a film story,” says a protagonist of the documentary, cut in at the very beginning of the film. Manchevski tries to centre the film around this statement, making us ask ourselves if it is correct. Of course, no one answer can be found. And while the effort is worthy, the final product doesn’t quite match expectations, but it does make for more than interesting viewing.