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Impressive Estonian feature starts out as a Beckettian horror before turning into something endearing and heartfelt - from the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

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While it’s hardly a horror film by the Hammer standard, Mo Mamma nevertheless develops a hypnotic rhythm that feels like it was cut out of a slasher film. And like the best of horror, it stems from the most human of emotions: love, and the imminent loss of it. Indeed, it centres on a family relationship, that between a parent and her child – actors Eva Koldits and Helena Lotman are credited as “mother” and “daughter” respectively – which only helps to accentuate the horrific elements when they arrive. The story feels like a modern day adaptation of a Samuel Beckett play, although it stems from a place much closer to the director’s heart. During the Q&A, director/writer Eeva Mägi stated that the film was inspired in part by her reaction to her grandmother’s death, before pointing to her own mother sitting two rows behind me.

Koldits and Lotman cement the film almost entirely on their own, portraying two gatekeepers who spend their days gardening, swimming and crying as they wait for the eponymous “Mamma” to return home. The “Mamma” in question is the matriach of the family, but her days are numbered, leaving the two to wonder what will become of them when she departs. They flirt with mutilation, exasperation and potential suicide, but love inevitably wins out, and the two women make up to the songs that they learned when they were very young.

The film begins mysteriously, portentously, with the two seated in a vehicle. The “daughter” inquires about her “mother”‘s love life, which leads to the elder leaving the car. “Mother” walks towards a blood-red sky, the colour reflecting the lipstick that hangs on her mouth. She is no doubt aware of the significance, stating that she thinks about “Mamma” – now bed ridden, and frail – all the time. The younger girl whiles the nights away in a dress that was meant for her teenage self, throwing herself headfirst into the green grass surrounding her house. The “daughter” is desperately lonely, and possibly bored, despite the incredible beauty that surrounds her. What she needs is a friendship, one she enjoyed with a cat whose remains both lead and haunt the two women.

Impressively, the film was shot in a week, but the urgency adds a dimension to the feature. The characters are erratic, piroutting around the surface of a swimming pool, before plunging themselves headfirst into the water. One suspects that if either lady were alone she would take that next step, but bound by their commitment to the family structure, they opt to wait. The lawn needs to be properly trimmed for ‘Mamma’s return, after all.

Composer Alessandro Malcangi performs much of the score on a piano, the chords crashing and plummeting like the demons swimming in their head. It doesn’t take a masters in Freudian studies to understand that this is a family in desperate need of outside guidance and counselling. Come to think of it, isn’t that every family? Glib jokes aside, the two actresses are wonderful, and bear something of a resemblance. In one of the film’s most astonishing shots, the pair stand side by side in a window.

Reflected in the lens, the “mother” sees her younger self, while the “daughter” witnesses the person she could well grow up to become. I reckon that this shot demonstrates the central themes of the film, capturing the imagination, despair, yearning and love that emanates from every family unit. Love might tear us apart, but it also builds us back up from the grave when it needs to. A must watch.

Mo Mamma just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


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