The Whore’s Son

Cool, stylized lensing by onetime Fassbinder d.p. Jurgen Jurges lifts pic above simple meller status, but uneven character development mars this otherwise commendable feature debut by Michael Sturminger. Stateside exposure outside fest and specialized cable outlets may prove difficult.

With:
With: Chulpan Khamatova, Miki Manojlovic, Stanislav Lisnic, Ina Gogalova, Georg Friedrich, Maria Hofstatter, Gabriel Usein, Emanuel Usein, Stefan Sidlo, Tamara Metelka, Robert Ritter, Susan Sozubek, Natalia Baranova.

Cool, stylized lensing by onetime Fassbinder d.p. Jurgen Jurges lifts “The Whore’s Son” above simple meller status, but uneven character development mars this otherwise commendable feature debut by Michael Sturminger. Tale of mother worship nicely sets its protags within multiple contexts as outsiders, but is kept from taking off by poor motivations and a nagging naivete in the over-innocent title character. Stateside exposure outside fest and specialized cable outlets may prove difficult.

The centrality of a narrow bathroom is established from the start, when agitated teen Ozren (Stanislav Lisnic) confesses to his mother’s murder from the safety of the porcelain throne. Time and again throughout his childhood, the toilet down the hall from Ozren’s basic apartment becomes a haven of escape whenever he has difficulty dealing with life.

As a young boy, Ozren (played by brothers Gabriel and Emanuel Usein, for ages three and eight respectively) enjoyed the normal amount of love and affection from “working girl” mom Silvija (Chulpan Khamatova). While she’s out turning tricks, he’s cared for by Aunt Ljiljana (Ina Gogalova) and Uncle Ante (Miki Manojlovic), a tightly knit family who escaped the horrors of a disintegrating Yugoslavia for the relative security of Vienna.

Silvija is keen to shield her little boy from her line of work, but others take a sadistic glee in disabusing the eight-year-old of his notion that mommy is a waitress. Despite the johns coming to the apartment at night and the blatantly red-light trappings of the neighborhood, Ozren just doesn’t seem to get what the world’s oldest profession entails.

As Ozren grows up, mom casts aside the vulgar trappings of a common streetwalker and assumes the classier garb of an upscale call-girl. She’s sophisticated now, actively distancing herself from her past as a Yugo refugee tramp, and in the process cooling her emotional ties to her son. When Ozren turns 16 and Silvija suddenly announces that she’s moving out, ostensibly so he can have the place to himself, Ozren feels abandoned by the mother he’s grown to idealize.

With prostitutes and pimps as neighbors, and a brothel just downstairs, Ozren’s strange resistance to even a smidgen of jaded attitude is hard to swallow. Equally difficult to understand is Silvija’s sudden emotional freeze-up; guilt conflicts with a desire for a better life, but the cold animosity she projects onto her son comes on too suddenly, with next to no transitions. Blame lies mostly with the script, which needs tightening up, rather than the actors, who do a fine job with what they’re given.

Sturminger plays on a style border that owes much to Fassbinder, with its combination of realism and a heightened aesthetic gloss, and he has a terrific eye for composition. Jurges’ striking lensing and feel for colorlend a richly textured look, belying pic’s small budget.

The Whore's Son

Austria-Luxembourg

Production: An Aichholzer Filmproduction (Austria)/Tarantula (Luxembourg) production. Produced by Josef Aichholzer. Directed by Michael Sturminger. Screenplay, Sturminger, Michael Glawogger, based on the novel by Gabriel Loidolt.

Crew: Camera (color), Jurgen Jurges; editor, Karina Ressler; music, Adrian Vonwiller; production designer, Renate Martin, Andreas Donnhauser; costume designer, Tanja Hauser; sound (Dolby Digital), Heinz Ebner; casting, Markus Schleinzer. Reviewed at Taormina Film Festival, June 16, 2004. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: With: Chulpan Khamatova, Miki Manojlovic, Stanislav Lisnic, Ina Gogalova, Georg Friedrich, Maria Hofstatter, Gabriel Usein, Emanuel Usein, Stefan Sidlo, Tamara Metelka, Robert Ritter, Susan Sozubek, Natalia Baranova.

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