Mother (Naruse, 1952)

16 05 2010

One night, during a film cycle so complicated that nobody knew where I could find the books from which the cycle derived its inspiration (fun idea, advertise books and then fail to provide them), I saw Mikio Naruse’s Mother. I cried. They were embarassed tears, but nobody was watching. There is a great balance achieved in this film: moments of youthful innocence intersped with moments of mature sadness. These disparate moments are not necessarily opposed. There are fairly obvious transitions between the ‘happy’ and the ‘melancholy’ scenes, but neither undercuts the other. That is, neither is posited as the answer to the other. They exist side by side as if their nature were to share a person’s lifespan. Nevertheless, they are not independent, for each makes the other more poignant, since each holds the seed of the other or, by virtue of the other being missing, each suggests the other through its absence: seeing only joy, we know sorrow is soon to come; and vice-versa.

Tense bodies awaiting their cue. Naruse positions his actors like sprinters before the gun announces the start of a race. They hover over each other, these bodies, and bide their time until the minute arrives when they can retire outside the home to weep. Or they reprimand each other, these bodies, but without exploding, without revealing the extent of their bitterness or of their confused bitterness that is also love and maddening inability to save that love, so there is screaming and it’s subdued screaming or screaming half-blocked by characters who never unload all that is within them. And that conflict between what they do unload and the mountains they choose to keep private is at the heart of every confrontation and piece of dialogue and delicate facial expression in Mother.

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