If it was only as instinctual as Helene, a disabled young woman, calling out for her mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). But Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata is about Helene’s sister Eva (Liv Ullmann), who sees an opportunity in seeing Charlotte again and she has a lot to say. What drives Bergman’s characters are emotion and memory, and therefore the possible social and political ideologies behind them get more ambiguous.
In a scene where Eva takes Charlotte to her room, we find out that she is and can be beautiful, sorrowful, vain, demanding, impatient and cruel, and she is all those things throughout the film. Eva, however, takes on her mother’s attributes in parts of the film, especially when she feels in control of the situation.
What makes the film just as ambiguous, then is how similar they are despite their different appearances and chosen paths.
I wanted to discuss its political interpretation because of a certain shocker spoiler. We can’t fully talk about artistic intentions here, but when a movie, a script or a book brings up a learned woman’s stance supporting abortion, she ends up looking like a babbling shrew. I suppose my discomfort comes from the later texts that had a less complex interpretation of the issue. In this movie, its hard to map out what it means for Eva to rid of a child under Charlotte’s orders, that Charlotte’s taking away Eva’s right to become a mother, that it is never explicitly said whether Charlotte is pro-choice, when the operation is allegedly forced, or if the child is presumable conceived out-of-wedlock.
By the end of the film, Eva’s husband seems to have questioned his unadulterated worship towards her. Watching and listening in the hall whether Eva is alone or with Charlotte, he’s the stand-in for the movie’s audience. We’re asking questions too, which is another thing I love about this movie.
(Repeat viewing, again I didn’t blog at TIFF ’09)
One of my favourite scenes in “Mother” is the abandoned amusement park scene. There’s awesomeness in the closeups of Jin-tae’s boots as he willfully beats the shit out of the horny, gossipy teenage schoolboys . But what I’m here to talk about is when Jin-tae’s best friend’s Mother (Hye-ja Kim) interacts with the same boys. She lights a cigarette and plays good cop to Jin-tae’s bad cop. She asks where the murdered schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung’s cellphone is. The previously fragile mother now looks tougher and sharper than nails, easily she gets the answers she needs.
That’s one of the hurdles that the titular Mother has to go through to prove that her slow-developed son is not the murderer of a girl. She tears up, she bravely ventures to places like the victim’s funeral and a sleazy Karaoke bar, she lies through her teeth. She’s technically a supporting character in her son’s life, their view of each other both Freudian and furious. But we later realize that it’s all about maintaining her world order as much as it is about getting her son out of jail. Hye-ja Kim also fills this character’s highs and lows, giving the best female performances of the past year.
This is the second Joon-ho Bong film I’ve seen (the first one was “The Host”). He explores known terrain/archetypes like schoolgirl innocence, low functioning emasculated men and according to Rick Groen, incompetent government officials, but he twists them in “Mother.” I’m not an expert in South Korean history and culture – cellphone culture and interconnectedness and other Asia-na is assumed as a part of a depiction of the said culture. But this movie’s so character driven anyway that it doesn’t get pigeonholed as a ‘film as national metaphor.’
Almost every frame in this movie is beautiful. From the close-ups to the natural landscapes of a Korean city to the valley-like cemeteries and streets to its attention to water and rain to its willingness to explore darkness. Blue hues are neo-noir’s best friend.
Sure the movie’s a bit slow and even the shocking twists (they’re the best ones in about a decade) don’t give it the punch that “The Host” did, but “Mother” is becoming more enigmatic the more I think of it.