Difficult to describe, a pleasure to watch.
Sometimes, a movie requires patience. Watching Georgian director Anna Urushadze’s Scary Mother, I kept trying to pinpoint the film’s genre. I would think it was a drama about a stifling marriage, until it side-swiped me with something so absurdly comic it wouldn’t be out of place in a Monty Python sketch. I’d think I was watching something grounded and realistic, until it became surreal enough to lift its feet off the ground. After a while, I gave up trying to figure out Urushadze’s film and was better for it.
There are a few crucial details however that help offer a primer to seeing a confounding film like this. Namely, that Manana (Nato Murvanidze), the protagonist and a put-upon mother penning a novel the family hasn’t read, is neither a good guy nor a bad one. It’s easy to be sympathetic towards her, especially when her husband Anri (Dmitri Tatishvili), instructs her to fix her hair up and wear tighter-fitting clothes, but she also seems to take little interest in her teenage children’s lives, while their Dad urges them to enjoy family breakfasts together.
Another is that this film will do little to inspire you to take a trip to Georgia anytime soon. The film is mostly washed out greys as Urushadze’s camera drifts over the cracked, cement walls of the family apartment, half-moon-shaped windows revealing more monotony in the apartments. Despite the bursts of irreverent humour, there’s little in here that seems celebratory or life affirming.
The script’s bursts of humour, however, are some of the funniest I’ve seen this year. Manana’s friend Nukri, who owns a stationary store across the street, urges her to read from her profane, unpublished novel in front of her family. Manana barrels ahead in sped-up monotone with a screed of poisonously bitter observations about family life, from her children’s lifeless arms clinging to her as she kicks her way out of the apartment to a bizarre sexual encounter with a neighbour in the hallway. This is followed by the incongruously peculiar Nukri’s refusal to leave the apartment—when he is physically thrown into the hallway by Manana’s husband, he blankly asks for his coat and jacket.
The weighty subject matter of Scary Mother might shame you into laughing with your mouth covered—there were only a few of us in the cinema really guffawing in the movie’s best scenes—but try to recognise the comedic misery in the film and you might get a little closer to what Urushadze is trying to get from her audience (even if the title makes it sound like a horror movie about the crushing despondency of monogamous family life).
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
Scary Mother played at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which is running from 2 – 19 August. Tickets and venue information available on the website.