Mother (Ema) is the third feature film from young Estonian director Kadri Kousaar, it’s also her first film to really dig its heels into the role of women in contemporary culture.
Mother is about an unnamed aging woman stuck in the trap of domestic existence. Her situation is particularly vexed by the round-the-clock care she must administer to her recently shot, comatose son. Matters are further complicated by an ill-timed affair with a dopey schoolteacher, and a constant stream of townsfolk who want to visit her son and confess their sins.
As a crime mystery the film works fairly well, faulted perhaps by a lack of focus in the right places. The characters are all here, but some of them just don’t click or get as much screen time as we might need to properly care, but then, we get enough of each story to understand it as part of the bigger picture. Kousaar is pointing dubious fingers at everyone, murky morality is a by-product of something rather than outright cruelty or evil. Each shady decision is a reaction to some other reaction, and Kousaar revels in slowly filling the canvas piece by piece with each visitor’s confession. Just when you think you’ve figured out who fired the fateful shot, someone new appears to throw a spanner in the works.
Kousaar is to be commended for facing tough questions head on. In her first film, a man sits down with his teenage son to talk him out of suicide, in her second film a scientist snaps after his girlfriend’s abortion and begins dishing out judgement on people he deems deserve it. Here, Kousaar dishes out a more focused, more acidic, commentary on the patriarchy and life at large. It’s not as out rightly funny as it could be, but there’s no denying this is a black comedy by its final reveal. The whole film itself is a rambling joke completed and elevated by a frankly wicked final reveal.
Interestingly Mother, like last years The Lesson, wants to expose the social and financial pressures that trap women and push them to the edge, offering a sympathetic shoulder in a sordid chapter. Tough, intriguing, beautifully acted, Mother is a tough pill but one so unflinchingly honest it’s hard not to recommend.
Dir. Kadri Kousaar
Stars: Tiina Malberg, Jaan Pehk, Jaak Prints, Rea Lest