"I guess it's easy to tag films as masterpieces when one is enthusiastic about a particular film or the work of a favourite director, but few deserve the term more than this remarkable cinematic work of art. In a little over an hour, Sokurov manages to achieve a perfect balance between the aesthetic, the emotional, and the spiritual elements that inform this simple but extremely profound film.The cinematic characteristics Sokurov employs are reminiscent of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, but he uses them in a particularly economic and distilled form, free of the preachiness and (dare I say) pretension that occasionally colours the work of the late master. Despite these elements, one can not say that this is in any way an emulation of Tarkovsky, unlike Lopushansky's 'Letters from a Dead Man' (another fine film). This is most definitely the work of a film-maker fully aware of, and in command of his own artistic voice.Where Tarkovsky was specifically Christian in terms of the metaphysical leanings of his films, Sokurov's film presents us with a kind of humanist mysticism, an elegiac hymn to human love, and to the natural rhythms of life and death. His film is a celebration of what it is to be human. All the conventional elements of cinema are pared right down. Dialogue is kept to an absolute minimum, but the soundtrack is essential to a full appreciation of the work - the wind, the sea, the "music" of the earth, provide a brilliant counterpoint and commentary to what is seen (and perceived). The look of the film is remarkable, inspired by the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.From beginning to end, Mother and Son feels like one long epiphany. This is contemplative, transcendental cinema at its best, and proof that cinema is far from dead. A true work of genius. Well I like it anyway...."
Beautifully filmed, acted, presented
Michael Heumann | El Centro, CA USA | 09/30/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I loved this film, though I can understand some of the comments by people who found it to be slow. I don't really understand why anyone would say that the film has no plot or that it is boring. Sure, it seems like a simple plot--a mother dies and a son watches--but these things, mothers and sons and death, are not simple things. They are also not boring things. This is a film for anyone who loves beautifully crafted and filmed works of art."
A cinematic chamber piece of exquisite beauty & profundity.
gradnick | 05/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film utilizing only two actors in a limited setting of a small interior and the immediately surrounding natural rural environment is a cinematic masterpiece. Solukov stands next to Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dreyer, Bergman in the depth of his insights, the beauty and power of his photography. Some viewers thought this film is too slow moving, it is not. There are spaces of silence, beautiful sacred silence which swallow the mind. The symbolism of the daily crucifixion of every mortal in the face of death is brought poignantly forth to stand before one as a witness of all that we are and all that we can possibly be. The tenderness of the son for his dying mother, the fear in him of losing her, of not being beside her in her last moment, his sad reassurances to her that he will not be lonely, and the direct communication between them is without parallel in cinema. There is nothing lugubrious, depressing, morbid in this film. This is a spiritual statement of great faith and great depth, the confrontation of death in life, of change, of generation following generation into birth thence into life thence into death. At one place the mother weakly asks if they can go for a walk together. At first the son balks and refuses saying: "It too cold for you to go outside. Are you not sick? Are you pretending to be sick?" There is a short pause, you can hear the breathing of the mother, then she says: "I am pretending. . . ". The son says almost with happiness (is it feigned or real?):"Then if you are pretending, we can go for a walk." She is unable to walk and during the entire film you only see her stand once, when he helps her lean against a birch tree to look downhill across the meadows and fields, the son carries her in his arms. In all the scenes in nature, he carries her, and it is like Christ carrying his Virgin Mother through eternity. But the son is stricken all the same, and breaks under the forthcoming loss of the most precious person in his life, and he goes out into nature alone, and finds solace in the earth, the trees, the sky, the fields. The photography of both the interiors and the exteriors is nothing short of magnificent, you will see lighting effects which will remind you of Lorrain,Turner,Monet, Friedrich. This film is quite short (73 minutes) with a simple but powerful scenario, beautifully written, masterfully acted and brilliantly directed, but it is a film you will want to watch again and again. Like a great piece of music it will open new dimensions within your heart and mind each time you see it. Designated by New York critics as one of the ten best films of the last years of the last century, I would go farther and say that this film is one of the best films ever made. It clearly shows that there are very important talents still making serious films with deep themes. Mother and Son is a work of purest genius. This is a dvd you must have."
THE CINEMA AS CANVAS
Larry L. Looney | Austin, Texas USA | 09/16/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many films have come along in the history of cinema that have caused reviewers to compare the director's work to that of an artist working on canvas - but Alexander Sokurov's MOTHER AND SON comes closer than anything else I have ever seen to that comparison, barring those who have been blatant in their use of post-production trickery. One article I read about the film stated that Sokurov was pretty tight-lipped about how he achieved the stunning visual effects in this work - but when pressured, he revealed that NOTHING had been done in the post-production phase of the film, that all of the visuals were accomplished by simple - but painstaking - use of mirrors, panes of glass, special lenses, &c. The results are breathtaking. MOTHER AND SON is like nothing I have ever seen. The effects, rather than distract or detract from the impact of the film, underscore it perfectly - everything occurs as if in a dreamstate, leaving the viewer wondering not only about the 'reality' of the occurrences depicted onscreen, but about their place in time as well. The film is only 73 minutes long - do the events within take place more or less within that timeframe, or over a more extended one?The portrayal of the soul-deep love between a son and his mother by the two actors is a moving one. We are left with more questions than answers about their personal situations, their lives apart or together, the locale in which they live - but we are left with no doubts at all about the devotion they feel for each other.I watched this film once on my own, then again a few days later in the company of my best friend. She drew things from the film that I had missed, and offered some valuable insights. I would strongly suggest watching it more than once - I feel certain that each viewing will reveal something new, something that will touch and move the viewer on a very deep level.Sokurov was a student (and a close friend) of Andrei Tarkovsky - but his work shows that he is anything but derivative, and a genius in his own right. This film is truly one of the great treasures of modern cinema."
We will meet where we agreed.
Tintin | Winchester, MA USA | 11/07/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The first impression one has upon viewing Sokurov's film is of formal aesthetic parallels with Tarkovsky's cinematography. This is not surprising, since Sokurov was Tarkovsky's best student at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK). Tarkovsky can be detected as a major source of Sokurov's inspiration, for example, in Sokurov's long takes (sometime longer than Tarkovsky's), his free use of natural sounds, and the unaffectedness of his actors. Both directors concern themselves with philosophical questions of the human existence and strive to express the inner reality of their beings. However, Sokurov's world is not Tarkovsky's. Whereas Tarkovsky' main characters are spiritually oppressed, they struggle to overcome and escape their fates, the characters in Sokurov's films are resigned to and accepting of their oppression. We might say that Tarkovsky's cinema is one of striving toward spiritual liberation, whereas Sukorov's cinema is one of enduring spiritual submission.
In Mother and Son, one is struck above all by the rather unusual cinematography, starting with the very first images following the credits. A young man and a sick old woman are reclining together, their bodies elongated and distorted through the director's use of an anamorphic lens. They lay motionless for almost a minute, until the son moves his lips, and we realize that we were not looking at a still picture, but at the beginning of a long take, which will last more than five minutes. The scene has the flatness of a painting instead of the usual three-dimensionality of films.
Indeed, Mother and Son is a "picture-film," where the images, the perspectives are routinely distorted and flattened to two dimensions. Sokurov's intentions are clear so far has he is striving to give his film the appearance of an icon or of a religious painting of the Quattrocento. Sokurov acknowledges that his filming of Nature has been influenced by the great romantic German painter, Casper David Friedrich. I would also add that some of the indoor scenes, in particular the opening one, reminds one of the founder of the German expressionist school, Edvard Munch. The distortion of the characters' physiques and the claustrophobic atmosphere of the room reeking of death also contribute to this identification with Munch's most famous paintings and engravings.
All through this production, Sokurov distorts his images in various ways, using panes of glass placed in front or to the side of the lens, mirrors, and even paint on the camera lens itself. Through these effects, the characters, objects, and nature appear "compressed" and distorted, which then serves as a metaphor for the turmoil of the soul. This turmoil is exacerbated further by the sense of a timelessness which permeates the film. Time seems suspended by the stillness of the characters. The long takes (there are fifty-eight shots in a film which runs for seventy-three minutes) also give a sense of stillness, which make us lose all sense of time. Do the events take place over hours, days, or months? The whole story could have almost taken place in real time, but we cannot say for certain.
Mother and Son is almost a silent film. The silence which prevails for most of the film is deepened by discrete, natural sounds emanating from beyond the screen, accentuating the sense of isolation from the rest of the world: running water, thunder, wind, bird calls, etc. In this respect, Nature is an important character, visually as well as aurally. The appearance of a steaming train or of a sailboat far in the distance only serves to remind us of the isolation of these two characters. These natural sounds are mixed together with some very subtle original music by Mikhail Ivanovich, together with a few musical segments from Mikhail Glinka and Otmar Nussio. The dialogue is spare, consisting of occasional short exchanges, often whispered, between mother and son. These exchanges can hardly be considered conversation. The characters have gone beyond talking to express their thoughts and inner feelings to each other: as indicated in the beginning of the film, they even have the same dreams. No philosophical discussions on the meaning of love or death ever arrive to reinforce what is evident through the imagery.
Mother and Son's themes are about one of the deepest relationships which can exist on the Earth, the love between a mother and her son, and the solitude of the death experience. The film explores the remaining moments between the son and his mother on her unavoidable ultimate journey. Nothing else exists for these two characters, about whom we know nothing. Sokurov does not reveal anything about their past, nor about their future. The present moment on their road together toward the doors of death is the only subject of importance. They are as one being in a strange, lonely, but beautiful world. But this intimate relationship will soon be rent asunder by Death, and Sokurov shows us that in spite of their close love relationship, in the end death is still a personal, private, isolating experience for both of them. As the mother drifts in and out of consciousness, the son's attitude as he faces the inescapable end goes from somewhat cheery and reassuring in front of his conscious mother, to total anguish and desperation when he is alone in the woods.
If the journey of these characters is a mystical experience, it is not a religious one. God is never mentioned nor alluded to. In one scene, where the mother is having an attack, rumbling thunder is heard in the background. She cries in anguish, "Who is that up there in the sky?" Her son answers, "Nobody." So, Sokurov denies a deity, but not some indeterminate afterlife: in the film's ultimate scene, the son whispers softly to his unconscious mother, "We will meet where we agreed. [...] Be patient, dear Mother, wait for me."
But the film's ending is still ambiguous, as Sokurov leaves open the possibility that the mother is still alive when the son returns from his walk. In the scene just before the son leaves the house, his mother lies in her bed-coffin, a white butterfly rests on her fingers. In many cultures, from the Christian Irish to the Baluba from central Zaire, the soul of a person emerges from the cocoon (the grave) and flies away in the form of a butterfly. Sokurov leaves us guessing at the end of the film: on the mother's gray, emaciated hand, the butterfly is alive but it has not yet flown away.
Mother and Son is an experience much more than it is a film. We are confronted with a continuum of painted scenes, as we would in any museum. We are drawn into each scene as we would be drawn into each painting, reflecting on content which raises in us a myriad of emotions -- some from long ago, forgotten -- or provokes new reflection. All of these emotions appear and disappear in dream-like fashion and in so doing, we partake in the mystery and complexity of the love between a mother and her son. "