“Nature never fails,” says the title character of “Mamma Gogo,” but of course that’s precisely what nature does in this semi-autobiographical tale from Icelandic auteur Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. Based on his experience with his own mother’s failing mental health, the film features a standout perf from the venerable Kristbjorg Kjeld, in a role that serves as a stirring coda to 50 years in Icelandic film. Commercial prospects are slim, given the pic’s intimacy and low celeb quotient, but that’s something Fridriksson launches several humorous broadsides at, en route to a startlingly tender conclusion.
There are parallel plotlines in and among the inside jokes: A director (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) has opened his latest film — “Children of Nature” — which does no business, and worsens his already shaky financial plight. As his money starts to evaporate and his car gets repossessed, the director begins to pin his hopes on an Oscar nomination. (In fact, Fridriksson’s “Children of Nature” got a nom in 1992). At the same time, the fictional director’s mother, Gogo, is stricken with Alzheimer’s, setting her stove on fire, flooding out her neighbors and making herself a general menace. Increasingly, she is visited by the ghost of her dead husband (another film vet, Gunnar Eyjolfsson) as her family back on terra firma tries to figure out what to do.
The look of the film is significant, especially when one compares it with Fridriksson’s most recent pic, the soon-to-be-released autism doc “A Mother’s Courage,” which also played Toronto and was far more spectacular visually. “Mamma Gogo” reflects the melancholia of its subject in the tempered palette and purposefully aged look of its cinematography (by agile d.p. Ari Kristinsson).
The palette also serves Fridriksson well in constructing the film’s tour de force, the integration of black-and-white footage from the 1962 Erik Balling film “79 af stooinni,” in which both Eyjolfsson and Kjeld played lovers. The juxtaposition of eras and films, youth and age are at once mournful and magical, and elevate the often droll “Mamma Gogo” to a realm of poignant beauty and profound depth.
One of the funnier jokes in the film is the infinite patience of the director, as Fridriksson positions his narrative representative as the perfect son. But for all the wit of “Mamma Gogo,” it’s a subject that will touch anyone with a parent, and anyone who expects to live long enough to go as gaga as Gogo.
Tech credits are fine; the simulation of a snowstorm Gogo defiantly marches into is a highlight.