Authentic perfs and an affecting depiction of poverty’s impact create an aura of palpable sadness in Kazakh loss-of-innocence drama “Mother’s Paradise.” Focusing on the experience of two young brothers who witness their family’s economic and emotional ruin, Kyrgyz helmer Aktan Arym Kubat’s low-budget follow-up to his fest fave “The Light Thief” is a slow burner, but touches tender, vulnerable spots as if caressing a wound. Yet to be released cinematically in Kazakhstan or elsewhere, the pic has quietly traveled the fest circuit, perhaps too humbly to be noticed.
Since their father moved to Moscow to find more gainful employment, young boys Amir (Amir Baimolda) and Serikbai (Sergei Gergert) share a bed with their mother Polina (Olga Landina) and live in the home of their complaining grandfather, (Mikhail Zhigalov). Household items are sold off one by one to make ends meet, and eventually it becomes apparent, even to the naive preteen boys, that their mother is prostituting herself to pay the bills.
Helmer Arym Kubat creates an environment that allows his tyro thesps to be authentic yet requires them to display a wide range of emotions. But even though the adults have less screen time, they create the strongest impressions; Landina smolders like her cigarettes and embodies a poignant combo of endurance and woundedness, Zhigalov reps a feisty presence, and Zhan Baizhanbaev (“Racketeer”) provides a memorable cameo as the boys’ school principal.
Per the production company, the scenario originated through a collaboration between Iranian helmer Mohsen Makhmalbaf (credited with the script) and Kazakh producer Sergei Azimov (“Strizh,” “Native Dancer”). Script modifications made by Arym Kubat without Makhmalbaf’s involvement during shooting may partly account for the yarn’s emotional strength and lack of pretension, but regardless of who’s responsible, the story fits seamlessly into its Kazakh milieu. Further enhancing the story, Arym Kubat often arranges his thesps in powerful combinations that nonetheless appear entirely natural.
Rafik Galeev’s lensing has the fuzzy look of aged film stock, but gets the job done; score by Renat Gaysin runs the gamut from cute kiddie music to a foreboding dirge as life slowly goes down the drain. All other tech credits are pro for the region.
The onscreen title was the less formal, more American-sounding “Paradise for Mom,” but the film is referred to as “Mother’s Paradise” almost everywhere else.