Given that Sokurov's 'Alexandra' has finally received a UK release, a full year after I saw it at the London Film Festival, it's perhaps useful to look at one of Sokurov's previous films about family bonds. Where 'Alexandra' looked at the love between a grandmother and her grandson, set during the Chechen conflict, 'Mother and Son' is a more dreamlike affair, featuring just two actors, the mother (Gudrun Geyer) and her son (Aleksei Ananishnov). What's interesting is how Sokurov dispenses with any personal information. Both the mother and son are nameless. We discover she was a teacher, but that's all we know of her. We know even less of the son, except that the mother suggests he's had a hard life and that she feels sorry for him. We learn nothing about where he lives, what he does or anything about his father. All Sokurov is interested in is the here and now - the tender and mutual love between the mother and her son.
What narrative exists is merely the son caring for his mother in her final hours before her inevitable death. Her death is not unexpected. She's clearly ill and both the mother and son know it's going to happen imminently. The son makes her final hours as comfortable as possible - one scene in which he combs her hair predates the scene in 'Alexandra' in which the grandson braids his grandmother's hair. Taking her for a walk, Sokurov transforms the world outside into a hazy and dreamlike setting with unnatural camera angles and the use of different filters and lenses. It's probable that Sokurov was inspired by the art of Caspar David Friedrich, the German artist whose work is striking similar - allegorical landscapes that evoke religious mysticism. Each scene resembles a Friedrich painting, with the use of mists, expansive skies, storms etc. Sokurov also films the mother and son in long shots to absorb the backdrop. There are few close ups during the exterior scenes; these are only used in the interior scenes. Sokurov makes no attempt at realism, creating a fantastic and illusory environment where death is just around the corner.
Clocking in at only 71 minutes, it might appear slight but Sokurov doesn't extend the film longer than is necessary. The amount of dialogue in the film is sparse. The mother and son only speak as much as they have to. Given that 'Mother and Son' is unconventional in dispensing with narrative, concentrating on its unique visual style and reliance on mood instead, it might be difficult for some. With patience though, it becomes rewarding. It's as moving an example of family love as I've seen, up there with Karoly Makk's 'Szerelem' (1971). Nick Cave once said that when he saw 'Mother and Son', he wept from start to finish. It's a film that can certainly have that effect. 4/5