Joshua Reviews Janis Nords’ Mother, I Love You [Theatrical Review]

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As we start this new year, some of the first festivals of this new year are set to get under way, and with that, waves of people are getting the chance to be introduced to some truly interesting films and intriguing new voices within the film landscape. Sundance and its sister festival Slamdance are set to get under way at the end of this month, and various regional festivals are still going strong.

One such festival is the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and among its ranks is one of the most interesting foreign language films that you’ll likely have a chance to see this year.

Entitled Mother, I Love You, this holdover from 2013 festivals like Berlin where it won an award in the Generation category is the Latvian entry for this year’s Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category, and is now ready to be seen once again by audiences at this year’s PSIF. And thankfully, it’s more than deserving of not only that Oscar consideration, but a much larger release hopefully later this year.

The film tells the tale of Raimonds, a youngster living with a single mother in Riga. Your typical youth, the young boy has his close group of friends, a penchant for riding his scooter and playing saxophone in his school’s band. Toss in some appreciation for video games, and you have a relatively normal youngster living a normal life. Well, that is until we begin to learn more and more about his life, and particularly, his relationship with his mother.

As he and his friends begin to cause some more trouble at school, Raimonds is given a behavior critique, which he never hands over to his mother for fear of punishment. He tries to make everything okay in ways only a young boy could see as fit, be it breaking a phone or ripping the first school note out of his notebook, only to have his saxophone stolen, making things even worse. As a police investigation makes his life even more difficult, we become privy to the story of a kid who has all the good intentions in the world, but just can’t catch a break to save his life.

Very much in the aesthetic footsteps of most classic coming of age tales from this portion of world cinema, writer and director Janis Nords crafts an intimate and emotionally charged doozy of a drama.   The photography here is a perfect blend of inviting during the home-set sequences and menacing, particularly during the night sequences set on the streets of Riga, with a naturalism that itself pairs so perfect with the inherent realism brought to the film by the superb performances. Nords’ camera is unflinching, truly steeping the viewer in a world where a mother’s love is truly all a child could ever dream of having, and her disapproval something to truly be afraid of.

Now, however aesthetically intriguing the film is (and it is truly a distant child of films from names like the Dardenne Brothers), the performances are even greater. Led by up and coming thespian Kristofers Konovalovs, this is a performance driven film that gets a star making turn out of this youngster. There is a wide eyed melancholy to the performance, as Konovalovs takes on a character that, for all intents and purposes, has nothing but the best intentions on his mind, but the worst of all possible luck. The moments he has while at school are informative and deeply resonant, and the chemistry and relationship he shares with his mother, played here by Vita Varpina, is almost universally relatable. Varpina is great here as the scolding but still quite loving mother figure, and again the relationship she and her on screen son share here is powerful and emotionally moving, able to switch seemingly on a dime from being a loving and warm relationship to one of deep regret and disappointment. The two give deeply naturalistic and realistic performances, really amping up both the film’s inherent naturalism and also the film’s inherent drama to a level rarely seen in today’s cinema.

An unflinching look at childhood issues that are as universal as they come, the film’s final act begins to wander just a tiny bit, but with some great direction from Janis Nords and two breathtaking lead performances, this drama-filled look at growing up in Latvia is a briskly paced gem of a drama. Here’s to hoping it will find a wider release at some point during this year.

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