Honing in on the difficulties kids have in interpreting adult behavior, sophomore helmer Janis Nords crafts an honest, involving pic about an adolescent boy unable to extricate himself from a web of lies in “Mother, I Love You.” The sappy title gives an erroneous idea of what’s to come, since Nords resists sentimentality, instead offering an accurate reflection of the protag’s increasing anxiety over the anticipation of his mother’s anger. Nicely incorporating the city of Riga into the mix, “Mother” will benefit from the Berlinale’s top Generation Kplus award, portending a solid run at kid-skewed fests and on Euro cable.
Raimonds (Kristofers Konovalovs) is a classic latchkey kid whose single mom, Sylvia (Vita Varpina), is an overextended ob/gyn who’s not quite able to balance her work, her son and her personal life. With too much time on his hands after class, Raimonds has been getting into mild mischief with Peteris (Matiss Livcans), a fearless schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks. Peteris’ mom (Indra Brike) is the cleaning lady in an apartment whose wealthy owner is rarely there, so the boys occasionally hang out in the luxurious digs without anyone knowing.
Though Raimonds isn’t a bad kid, his playful behavior and unwise alliances result in numerous disciplinary reports he’s unwilling to show Mom. Afraid she’ll blow a gasket, he tries to forestall a call home from school by pulling out the phone cord; a stressed-out Sylvia slaps him and says the words no parent should ever utter: “Sometimes I hate you.” Raimonds runs away and, uncertain where to go, lets himself into the apartment where he and Peteris hang out.
He’s not alone: The owner is back with a prostitute. When the woman leaves, Raimonds sees she’s stolen miscellaneous items including his own saxophone, needed for a school concert in a couple of days. Following her to a pawnshop, he later tries to get the instrument back, but the dealer demands money. Afraid of admitting the truth to his mother, Raimonds goes back to the fancy apartment to steal money so he can get his sax out of hock.
Among the strengths here is the way Nords avoids falling into stereotypes: Sylvia first comes off as a selfish woman, which is how her son sees her at times, but then proves to be just an overstretched single mom trying to do her best. Like many kids, Raimonds doesn’t have an adult to go to for advice (certainly not the school’s caricature of a guidance counselor), so he’s trapped in a cycle of misunderstanding which leads to increasingly poor choices. Nords refuses a moralistic feel-good ending, satisfyingly choosing to emphasize the relief of being up-front rather than demonizing the boy.
An integral part of the story is the milieu, a Riga of shifting social allegiances where hierarchies of lower and middle class are rigidly maintained, and economic misfortune can destabilize the entitled nouveaux riches. The seamless mix of amateur and professional thesps points to significant rehearsal time, and all performances are strong, especially the charismatic Konovalovs. Tobias Datum’s lensing doesn’t adopt any p.o.v. shots, yet the watchful camera clearly reflects Raimonds’ view of the world.