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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

Mother and Son

September 22, 2014
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motherandson   The term “art film” gets thrown about so much that it’s ceased to have much meaning. Some people even consider it an insult. So when I say, that Mother and Son, a 1997 work by Russian director Alexander Sokurov, is an art film in the strictest sense, I know I might scare people away. But I don’t know how else to characterize a picture that is dedicated so completely to the creation of a form, visually and spiritually beautiful, which seems present in a single moment rather than in a narrative. The film looks different than anything I’ve ever seen, and it also transmits meaning in a new way.
An old woman is dying and her adult son is taking care of her. They live in a rustic house in the middle of some vast wilderness of meadows and forests. It seems as if no one else lives in this country. The son (Alexei Amanishnov) is tenderly solicitous of every need that his mother (Gudrun Geyer) may have. Their conversations are in low tones and whispers. He moves with slow determination and care, carrying her in his arms when she wants to go outside. Often they are silent, staring at the huge vistas and landscapes. When they do speak (the script, such as it is, was written by Yuri Arabov), the words are significant, conveying their long and deep bond with each other.
The edges of the frame seem to fade off into a distant haze, while the shapes and colors in the foreground have a quality like soft brushstrokes. The scenes sometimes look like paintings. The human figures aren’t always normally dimensional: in certain shots they seem to stretch out as if in an oblong mirror, or to blend in with the curve of a hill or the horizon. I’m not sure how Sokurov and his cameraman, Alexei Fyodorov, achieved these effects, although I’ve read that glass was sometimes put in front or to the side of the lens. In any case, the visual style produces a dreamlike, transcendent vision of the world. The interplay between the dark unity of the two people in their house, full of shadow, and the immense natural world outside, is very striking and tends to arrest the mind. The son cannot bring himself to accept the coming death of the mother. She seems far away, yet has moments of lucidity in which she touches him with her compassion for his own suffering. The image of the young man carrying the frail old woman in his arms is like a reverse Pieta—Sukorov portrays the togetherness and the aloneness of people within the awesome world which completely contains them. Thunder is heard faintly rumbling in the background throughout the picture.
Mother and Son is only 73 minutes long. It is enough time to express eternity.

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