TIFF Day 10: Mothers, mothers, mothers

It’s the last day of the fest, and I feel compelled to add a retroactive disclaimer to everything I’ve reviewed in this blog: Watching 37 movies in 10 days is not a natural way of viewing films. Seeing a comedy sandwiched between two esoteric art films, or watching a movie when your eyes are starting to hurt from staring at theatre screens for so long, is bound to bias the experience. So take them for what they’re worth — honest appraisals of how the movies affected me during the fest.

So, without further ado, the last two.

Mother and Child (dir. Rodrigo Garcia)

Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air has earned a lot of Oscar buzz since its TIFF debut (which I would say is giving the movie too much credit, but that’s just me), but in my view, Mother and Child is a much better Academy Award candidate. It’s an ensemble drama, for one thing, and the Oscars love those. The subject matter (motherhood in all its forms) is just middle-brow enough to appeal to a wide range of critics. Most importantly, though, it’s actually good. Very good.

Naomi Watts is excellent as a driven, manipulative and occasionally cruel career woman who is determined to succeed on her own terms. She’s marvelously, three-dimensionally bitchy, a callous person with no emotional ties to the world. Her story is connected to two others — Annette Bening, a socially stunted woman caring for her aging mother, and Kerry Washington, who is in the process of adopting a child. The relationships between the stories are peripheral but not contrived, which is a step up from a lot of the six-degrees-of-separation dramas out there. Each story also has its own perfectly satisfying arc, with even the bit players getting the attention they deserve.

There’s no doubt that Mother and Child is straightforward, glossy Oscar fare, but it’s not cynical about it. It’s just a solid example of the traditional well-made movie.

Mother (dir. Joon-ho Bong)

It wasn’t until his third film, 2006’s creature comedy The Host, that Korean director Joon-ho Bong gained an international following. That movie was a genre-defying mash of horror, action, comedy and drama, a fun and original if not so weighty bit of popcorn fare. Mother is a step forward all around, with deeper psychology, a more harrowing plot and genuine emotional resonance.

Bin Won plays Yoon Do-joon, a slow, probably mentally handicapped character whose life revolves around his mother (played perfectly by Hye-ja Kim). But what seems to be a fairly typical over-protective mother scenario transforms when Yoon ends up in jail for murder, and his mother sets about trying to prove his innocence. The lest you know about the plot going in, the better, as Kim’s journey has no end of surprising detours. It’s a thriller in the classic sense, with each new piece of information shedding new light on all the characters, and the script never takes the easy way out. Bong’s vision is remarkably complete, and Mother is easily one of the best films of the fest this year.

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