Mother and Son (1997) ★★★★★

Mother and Son (1997)

Director: Aleksandr Sokurov

Cast: Aleksei Ananishnov, Gudrun Geyer

Runtime: 68 minutes

My Rating: ★★★★★

In Short: Devastatingly gorgeous and beautifully profound

I wish I had seen this film before I wrote my 15 Great Films Under 80 minutes list, because this is one of the few feature films shorter than 80 minutes I have seen that I have loved with such a raw, indescribable passion. Aleksandr Sokurov, the director of the famous Russian Ark, a 90-minute film shot completely in one unbroken take, has crafted here a film even better than Russian Ark, more intensely personal and visually gorgeous.

Mother and Son has a very simple story. It is the story of the two titular characters, who are never given names, and their tightly knit relationship with each other. They live alone in a house in the middle of nowhere. Their property is surrounded by lush landscapes, pastures of green and infinite horizons. Sokurov shoots all these landscapes so that their colour is somewhat drained, a lifeless yellow. In the film, we follow them for one day, as the devoted Son carries his Mother out into the forest to admire the trees. Then he carries her home faithfully, and the two talk of their past, his childhood and her motherhood. Later, Mother expresses her fear of death, and a melancholy with the way life is, and Son faithfully reassures her that everything is fine.

The relationship between these two characters is perhaps the closest and most beautiful of any relationship I have ever seen in a film. Their mutual love for each other is stronger than the strongest love, and it holds them tight and together. It never falters for a moment. It is complete and utter devotion, and it is rare and admirable. The film contains very little dialogue, but when the two characters do converse, one can sense the understanding of each other in their words. They have lived together for a long time in their quiet world, and nothing has made them more content than each other’s presence. I have spoken much of their love for each other, perhaps even exaggerated it a bit, but it is important to understand that Sokurov never exaggerates a single detail. The bond between mother and son is more subtly implied than spoken.

However, the real star of this movie is the visuals. Adjectives can not describe how overwhelmingly stunning they are. This is possibly the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen in terms of visuals. There is one twenty minute sequence of complete silence toward the end of the film where the Son goes for a walk by himself. He walks through the trees and admires a steam train that is passing, before slowly making his way back. This sequence is just unbearably beautiful because of its silence, and the way each image is shot, like an oil painting, and an art masterpiece at that. Every outdoor shot in the movie is filled with contemplative beauty, and some even had me completely awestruck with their perfection. I have finally understood the comparison between Sokurov and fellow Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky: both have a keen eye for the beauty of still images and landscapes, and in Sokurov’s film, the powerful pastures and hillsides are complemented by the sounds of nature, so quiet and yet so screamingly loud.

When Aleksandr Sokurov was asked why he made Russian Ark in one take, he responded that he never liked editing and that we should “stop being afraid of time.” No one could have put it more simply nor effectively. We should stop being afraid of time. Indeed, it would not be farfetched to assume the 68 minutes of this film are all 68 minutes in real time, as when Sokurov does cut, it never seems to be jumping through time. Sometimes at a point where most directors would cut, Sokurov refuses to, and we never get bored because there is so much to look at and take in. Mother and Son is one of the best films of the 90s, and one of the best shot films of all time. To look at any image is to see perfect beauty, and the relevance and importance of cinema as art today. Mother and Son is more than deserving of the mere 68 minutes it demands of your time.

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Posted on April 16, 2012, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Christian Hallbeck

    I agree with you: visually this is about as beautiful as it gets. (The slightly distorted pictures remind me of the paintings of El Greco.) I remember seeing this film in Stockholm 1997, in a very small art house theatre (placed above the café next to the Bergman theatre I told you about). We were three persons in the theatre: me and a middle aged son and his mother… It’s true! It was a very solemn atmosphere, I assure you.

    When the ship bell sounds from the sea… So unbearably final and reassuring at the same time.

  2. Honestly this doesn”t sound like something i would like. I may give it a chance at some point, but it doesn’t sound like my type of movie

    • Haha you say that in so many of your comments. One of these days you will surprise yourself and like a film you didn’t think you’d like.

      • Well i did watch Tree of Life on dvd and ended up liking it far more than i thought i would(I hadn’t become enamored with Malick like a lot of bloggers) so it does happen sometimes

  3. It truly is stunning, certainly one of the most beautiful, painterly films I’ve ever seen. I very much need to see it again, with an eye towards appreciating the content as much as the visuals. I loved it when I saw it and bought the DVD… and in a moment of brain dysfunction, sold it when I was trying to slim down my collection. Your review reminded me that I need to correct that mistake.

  4. Wow, the way you beautifully described that scene towards the end sold me, Tyler. I have to check this out at some point. I wonder if Netflix streaming has it, as that’s the only subscription I have. To capture what you all ‘contemplative beauty’ certainly takes a certain keen eye, and sounds like Sokurov’s got it.

    • I think you would actually like this one, Ruth. You’ve probably heard of Sokurov’s more famous film, Russian Ark (in which the entire 90-minute movie is shot in one unbroken take), but I think Mother and Son is an easier film to watch than that one, and also a better film. If there’s one thing Mother and Son does well, it’s capture the contemplative beauty not just of the outside world, but of human relationships and the emotions we keep inside ourselves.

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