Day 13 – Mother and Son (Sokurov)

Another one of my favourites. And a classic, I suppose. Russian director Sokurov is more than just a slow-film director, though. In fact, I don’t find all of his films very slow. When I watched Faust (2011), I wasn’t drawn to the film because it was slow. It felt slightly faster than his other films, but it didn’t make a huge difference. It was actually a “normal” film speed, appropriate for the subject.

The one piece everyone can perhaps name when the name Sokurov comes up is The Russian Ark (2002), an entire film shot in one single long-take. It was a hugely interesting experiment, and fed in well later on with my engagement with Slow Art Day.

Let’s come to Mother and Son (1997)Apparently, it was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy, which was complemented with Sokurov’s later work Father and Son (2003). I’m not sure whether the trilogy will ever be completed. I truly hope so. Mother tells the story of a dying mother and her absolutely devoted son. The film is for me an exploration of love between a parent and his/her child. It also, perhaps, speaks of sacrifice and grief. But the main thing remains the dedication of the son towards the care of his mother.

Mother and Son (1997), Sokurov

I seem to like the number “two”, so yes, there are (once again) two things that strike me in this film. Both of them are linked to visual aesthetics, and are kind of interconnected.

I’m not sure whether I have mentioned it in earlier blog entires about the theme of painting in slow films. Sokurov’s Mother and Son is, for me, the most evident example of this. I cannot say with certainty that Sokurov intended the film frames to look like paintings, but they do. This was one of the slow films that triggered the idea. There are several issues to this.

First, the dominance of landscape and therefore the use of long, or extreme long shots. In some scenes, characters are only minuscule. This makes perfect sense if one considers where the film is set: in a remote area, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in and around a cabin. This makes also sense if one considers the underlying theme of the film: evanescence, death. Man is only a small part in the universe. He’s mortal, he’s not permanent. Even though the landscape is impermanent, too, it will remain once man dies. Putting the landscape at the forefront of the film is thus plausible.

The second feature I would like to mention feeds directly into this; the way the film frames look. They do not only look painterly (I should say that for me the whole film looks like an oil painting to me). They also look pretty obscured. I found this to be the most stunning aesthetic achievement of Sokurov. If I remember right, he used those aesthetics in Father and Son as well, though not quite to the same extent.

Mother and Son (1997), Sokurov

Sokurov distorted the film image by filming through mirrors or very specific lenses. Apparently, he also filmed through painted glass panes (maybe this is where my feeling of “this is a painting!” comes from!?). The result is a film which, among other features, defies every logic of visual perception. Everything seems wobbly somehow. I sometimes wondered how to position my head to make sense of what I’m meant to see. Images are not always clear. Instead, the viewer is confronted with blurriness (dyssebeia has written a nice article on this). I don’t think that there is a fully “normal” film frame in the entire film. But then, I could be wrong. I got used to this distorted viewing that I’m not so sure anymore what a “normal” film frame looks like.

The startling aesthetics bring up one problem: they have the potential to divert the viewer’s attention from the actual content. I did focus on the content, but what did I write my blog post about? The aesthetics. Actually, the content of the film is just as interesting, Maybe I will write about this some other time.

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