23 Oct ‘Mother I love you’
Mother, I Love You (2013)
Director: Janis Nords
As the first feature-length installment of the Behind the Curtain Film festival, audiences are invited to bear witness to a few weeks in the life of a single mother and her only son in 21st century Latvia. She works at a hospital emergency ward, and struggles to find time to spend with her child. There is another mother, too, who cleans people’s apartments, giving her child pocket money from her earnings. Their interaction often treads the lines of parental authority and childish submission to it, although such phatic, proscribed dialogue belies their desire for the luxury of more time with one another, wherein their hardships can evaporate, away from the demands of modern working life.
Written and directed by Janis Nords, Mother, I Love You, is the Latvian director’s fourth feature film, a realist drama which follows the point of view of Ronald, a 12-year old who often falls into trouble at school for typically bad behavior and deficiencies in attention. After a few days of skipping school, Ronald finds himself to be the victim of a series of unraveling events when he runs away from home following a particularly punishing argument with his mother. Seen as a disappointment to her, and inconsequential to her life, he takes his saxophone and flees. However, his hopes are shattered when, having become disillusioned by the loneliness and the cold, Latvian night, he breaks into an apartment for some comfort, but forgets his saxophone upon escaping.
The saxophone is pawned by a woman he thinks is a prostitute due to the proximity of the hem of her skirt to her crotch. It is an attitude expressive of his understanding of women, how he visually processes them and attaches culturally determined signifiers. The prostitute, the mother, the cleaner. These are the female figures of the story, the archetypes of the boy’s imaginary and social experiences. They are underdeveloped characters who only appear at moments of grief in the boy’s shambolic journey; the director has made it explicit that these figures are all objects to the boy’s subjectivity. He nevertheless struggles to assert himself under the conditions of boyhood in those confusing years between child and teenager.
A turning point in our opinions of the character arrive at a point where he steals the money to buy his saxophone back from the pawn-shop, giving the man behind the counter an assortment of currencies in exchange. He is now faced with the reality of money as the mediator of possessions. Of money as the mediator of dreams, attachment, and suffering. It was an expensive gift from his mother, a gift that equalled hours of her labour-time.
The final scene is also the most poignant and striking. The boy’s head is casually buried into his mother’s lap, and film closes with a close-up of his mother’s hand, as the boy carefully, tenderly reaches over to place his on top. There is no doubting the relevance of a Freudian reading, for the boy to look to his mother as someone holy, someone who he wishes to consume, and his apparent rejection of the new man in her life as a treatment of his lack of importance to the narrative (his presence is quite insignificant). We come to learn that to Ronald, the saxophone symbolizes his fantasies for independence from his mother, from his state-sanctioned delinquency, influenced by his friend who plays a drum on the street corner for money. The saxophone is his way out of childhood dependency, and a phallic symbol to make up for his absent father, and perhaps his desire to become the father so as to be closer to his mother. Overall, the film is well-paced and traces the themes of guilt and repentance, confusion and consequences, where the longing to grow into adulthood (a projected freedom) is perpetually conflicted with the desire to melt back into the womb. Both are momentarily situated as versions of freedom, though the brief snapshot that we receive into a stark moment in their lives are indeed too short-lived.
Written by Aisling Marks