A scene from "Mother", Estonia

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Who shot Lauri, a well-liked teacher with no known enemies in his local community? As he now lays comatose at home, his mother Elsa (Tiina Maelberg, a respected stage and TV actress making her film debut) acts as a devoted caregiver with infinite patience and resilience. A middle aged woman visibly stuck in a loveless marriage, the permanent quiet tension on her face only occasionally betrays hidden depths of lifelong frustration, unhappiness and resentment. The ultimate desperate housewife. While the police struggles to find a suspect and a motive, an endless stream of visitors comes by Elsa’s house, all apparently in dire need to talk, confess or confide to the bedridden victim. Each seems to be harboring some kind of secret. Could one of them be the culprit?

A subversively unsettling and smartly crafted whodunit festooned with an often sardonic humor, Mother is Kadri Kousaar’s third film. In 2007, her first, Magnus was the first ever Estonian movie to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Also a celebrated novelist, she has written several best-sellers in her country.” Its tragicomic tone evokes the Coen brothers’ Fargo”, she says, alluding to her most obvious inspiration.” It’s partly a crime mystery about trying to find out what happened to the son and partly a drama about a woman disappointed in her life, tired of making self-sacrifice and her attempts to carve out a better life for herself.

Other more indirect references could be found in Ulrich Seidl’s Dog Days and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.  Under the false idyllic suburban exterior, an insidious feeling of claustrophobia and dreariness permeates the tableau as more is revealed about the seemingly passive Elsa. “Even though the story takes place in contemporary provincial Estonia, adds the director, its themes are universal: loneliness, disillusionment and longing for love, the sacrifices parents make for their children, the dangers of feeling lonely and hopeless. All my films have dealt with dark, mysterious undercurrents of people whose best intentions take them into the wrong direction. Elsa wants to break free and for the first time in her life she dares to do something purely for herself, something selfish. However by wanting to get out of her claustrophobic situation, she becomes more trapped in it. Still, I hope the audience empathizes with her.”  Mother’s unexpected ending makes Elsa’s fate even more disturbing and poignant.

Produced, written and directed by an all-female team, Mother won a national script competition in May 2015 and was financed with the help of the Estonian Film Institute that has a fast-track program for low budget films. The movie was shot the following August in two weeks in Kivioli, a picturesque town, north east of the country.  And on November 26th, it was named Best Estonian Film at the 10th Tallinn International Film Festival.