“Mother and Son” crawl toward grave

Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
February 20, 1998

1 stars

By the end of “Mother and Son,” I felt as lethargic as the half-dead mother in the title.

Laboriously slow, the 73-minute movie would’ve made an effective, moving 15-minute short. Instead, the film drags on at a snail’s pace, depicting the almost Oedipal relationship between a dying mother and her caretaker son.

Mother-and-Son_There is little dialogue or movement in the film. The cinematography is inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s emotional paintings, and director Alexander Sokurov presents the film as a still-life portrait.

The problem is, still-life doesn’t work in a movie.

The only two characters in the film are the mother and son. Gaunt and pale, the mother (Gudrun Geyer) appears so ill that the moviegoer can almost feel her unspecified disease. She lives with her son (Alexei Ananishnov) in a dark, spartan cabin in a deserted town.

Subtitled in English, the movie is at its best when the mother and son speak to each other in hushed Russian.

“I’m afraid of dying,” she says.

“Then don’t die,” he orders.

But more often than not, Sokurov tells his story through static shots of the sleeping mother, the crying son and the ominous black clouds.

Anyone who has experienced the loss of loved ones can relate to the importance of each moment spent with them. And with “Mother and Son,” Sokurov may have been attempting to capture the pathos of the son, who could comfort his mother, but not save her.

Unfortunately, documenting that on film doesn’t always make for great cinema.

At one point, the son cries, “Creation, you are wonderful.”

Creativity isn’t such a bad thing, either.

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