Film Review: Mother

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Baltic Rhapsody: Darkly comedic whodunit.

Elsa is forced to become a full-time carer for her son Lauri when he is left comatose after a robbery. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she dreams of escaping from her life of drudgery and finding self-fulfillment far away from the house that is rapidly becoming her prison.

Inspired by an Irish radio drama, Kadri Kousaar’s third feature film is a wry black comedy filled with eccentric characters. The thin veneer of respectability is peeled away from a backwater town when the police investigate the shooting of Elsa’s son. In a small community where everyone seems to known everyone, someone knows the shooter’s identity. Secrets hidden behind closed doors may be exposed as the police try to solve the puzzle of who attempted to rob Elsa’s’s son at gunpoint.

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One by one, a cast of offbeat characters visit the bedside of Elsa’s comatose son and confess their thwarted dreams and concealed secrets. An unblinking Lauri (Siim Maaten) hears his friends and neighbours expose their inner torments and will never be able to pass on the information. Will the shooter take advantage of Lauri’s comatose state and confess knowing the police will never learn of their guilt?

Compared by critics to the Cohen brothers’ Fargo, Mother is Estonia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars. A sardonic, playful, and claustrophobic mystery which offers hints that Baltic Noir might be on the verge of a breakthrough moment. Exploring possible consequences of self-deception, sacrifice, and selfishness, the deceptively subtle approach taken by the script works on multiple levels as it dissects a mother and son’s relationship.

In her first feature film role, Tiina Malberg demonstrates an ability to mix tragedy with comedy. Her performance is remarkable as she plays a mother crushed by feelings of disillusionment and forced to provide around-the-clock care for a son.

Largely confined to Elsa’s house, the film has a deliberate oppressive texture. It aims to be both domestic and idiosyncratic while weaving a disturbing account of a town where despite appearances to the contrary nobody can be trusted. Like all good whodunnits. everyone is a suspect and viewers will keep guessing throughout the film.

Mother is an ideal introduction to Estonian cinema. A dark comedy with an unexpected bite.

Mother is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.

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