‘Mother’ (‘Ema’): Film Review

The young Estonian director Kadri Kousaar seemed poised for excellent issues when her prize-successful debut Magnus (2007) turned her small Baltic homeland’s first-ever Cannes choice. Her second function, The Arbiter (2103), was one thing of an overambitious misfire. But her third makes good on her early promise, and has been nominated as Estonia’s official Oscar contender.

Mother is a crisp, sardonic, darkly humorous mystery thriller with a claustrophobic really feel that occasionally betrays its roots as an Irish radio drama. But it interprets nicely to the display, with vaguely Nordic Noir undertones that will have apparent pageant attraction and modest theatrical potential, especially if it makes the Academy shortlist.

In her first headline position, Tiina Malberg displays her wealthy range of hangdog expressions as Elsa, a middle-aged housewife and self-sacrificing mother living a lifetime of quiet desperation in a small Estonian city. A digital prisoner in her cramped suburban home, Elsa is a fastidious domestic drudge to her emotionally indifferent husband Arvo (Andres Tabun) and 24-hour caregiver to her adult son Lauri (Siim Maaten), a former schoolteacher who now lies in an extended-term coma following a mysterious gun attack. The sole glimmer of passion in Elsa’s drab daily routine is her clandestine affair with Lauri’s co-worker Aarne (Andres Noormets), though their liaisons are fraught and fleeting.

Nobody is aware of why Lauri was shot, but the whole town is raring to seek out out, especially as he withdrew a large sum of money from the financial institution shortly earlier than the attack. His anxious pal Andres (Jaak Prints) can barely contain his anger, as he was relying on a loan to help salvage his failing business and ailing marriage. Girlfriend Liina (Katrin Kalma) tearfully confesses her infidelity to Lauri, then discreetly searches his bed room for the missing money as she wants the down payment on a brand new house. Mentally unbalanced ex-lover Riin (Rea Lest) seems the most affected by Lauri’s terrible destiny, providing him some powerful-love options: What can I do for you? Put a pillow in your face?”

Unfolding at a brisk pace, Mother is structured as an episodic collection of home visits to the comatose Lauri, and largely played for deadpan comedy with tragic, flippantly noir-ish touches that darken as the plot thickens. Koussar and her cinematographer Jean-Noel Mustonen use extensive hand-held and close-up photographs so as to add textural variety to the restrictive setting, which principally takes place inside Elsa’s humble dwelling. Jaan Pehk’s spare, discordant rating amplifies the unease with out veering into gothic melodrama.

Only within the remaining act does Kousaar break up the movie’s linear chronology, using temporary flashbacks to finally unlock the mystery and expose the secrets and techniques of her nervy, haunted protagonists. The shock twist arrives with a bitter sting, assuming you do not see it coming. But even when you do, the sour payoff still bites deeper than a normal suspense thriller, throwing new mild on the unspoken power dynamics seething away below the placid surface of tight-lipped households and small communities. Mother is a slender chamber drama from a tiny Baltic state, nevertheless it packs a satisfying universal punch.

Production company: Meteoriit OU Cast: Tiina Malberg, Andres Tabun, Andres Noormets, Siim Maaten, Jaan Pehk, Jaak Prints, Rea Lest, Katrin Kalma Director: Kadri Kousaar Screenwriters: Leana Jalukse, Al Wallcat, inspired by the radio drama Coma by Kevin McCann Producer: Aet Laigu Cinematographer: Jean-Noel Mustonen Editor: Tambet Tasuja Music: Jaan Pehk Sales: The Film Sales Company, New York

Not rated, 89 minutes

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