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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 First Feature Competition

Review: Mo Mamma


- Estonian filmmaker Eeva Mägi’s first full-length fiction tenderly explores family bonds and mutual acceptance while featuring three generations of women

Review: Mo Mamma
Eva Koldits (left) and Helena Lotman in Mo Mamma

In her not-so-long but intense filmography of shorts so far, Eeva Mägi seems to have experimented with a variety of styles and topics – she has made poetic documentary portraits about village life (Lembri Uudu, 2017) and alcohol as a companion on lonely days (The Weight of All the Beauty, 2019), an absurdist drama about child custody (County Court, 2021) and a stylish revenge western with elements of opera (3rd Octave F, 2022). What unites those various attempts is that they take place in remote areas and deal with intimate issues. No wonder, then, that her debut fiction feature, Mo Mamma [+see also:
interview: Eeva Mägi
film profile
, currently showing in the First Feature Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights International Film Festival, hurls its heroines into a cosy but deserted wooden house in a village we never get to see – only the vast, empty fields of its surroundings fall within the scope of DoP Sten-Johan Lill’s camera. With some of her own real-life amateur footage included and the adoption of an overall semi-autobiographical approach, it is something of a hybrid movie, leaning on a personal story and Mägi’s experience in documentary filmmaking. Meanwhile, her other freshly completed documentary feature, Who Am I Smiling For? – again about intimate subjects such as motherhood while dealing with terminal illness – is simultaneously celebrating its Baltic premiere at the same festival and once again confirms her urge to reach the innermost corners of the human soul.

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Mother and daughter quarrel in a car: the daughter accuses the mother of flirting with a young boy while the grandmother is dying in hospital. The mother tries to ostracise the daughter with silence and neglect, especially when, later on, she is further accused of being a cold, selfish and traumatising figure. It seems that neither of them is able to understand the other in these opening scenes, and that’s why, perhaps, the film deviates from rationality and embarks on an oneiric trip back in time – through the recollections of Mamma, the pillar of their female lineage whose life is ebbing away and whom we get to know only from blurry video tapes. In all their fragmentation, these abstract and scattered excerpts of a life help them to root themselves in firm ground and allow us to sense the deep ancestral connection between them. And they eventually help them to go through grief together and to let go of their mutual anger, while still allowing themselves to be childish and silly, hysterical and pathetically sentimental, vulnerable and illogical, just like one can afford to be only in a mother’s lap, no matter how hurtful and damaging her love might be.

As Mägi herself discloses in an interview for the festival’s TV channel, Mo Mamma was produced in a spontaneous manner and in no time at all, with very little money. Perhaps for this reason, it feels like an unconstrained scream, extracted from the very painful core of existence. In the absence of a strict shooting plan and structured script, the two actresses, Helena Lotman as the daughter and Eva Koldits as the mother, had plenty of room for improvisation and could probably be considered co-authors of the film. Here and there, the frivolous essayistic form fails to hold the viewer's attention, but that is compensated for by the atmospheric warmth which mother and daughter eventually create in their family habitat, as well as by the cathartic reconciliation towards the end.

Mo Mamma was produced by Estonia’s Filmivabrik and Kinosaurus Film.

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