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.