For Your Awareness: Mother (1926)

For this month of women in film, I decided to dig pretty deep into the film canon and find some rather obscure gems, not to mention a film that is directly tied to some research I am currently doing for a class, it is the veritable two birds with one stone way of executing things on this blog when possible.  As such, I decided to go with the 1926 Soviet montage film Mother, which, much like its contemporaries, exists in a succinct and envisioned manner that pops off the screen capturing viewers intrigue by its near surrealist use of juxtaposition and high level cinematic to draw in viewers.  In the fashion of so many films from the Soviet Union of this era, the narrative is very much centered in a Marxist state of mind, where in, the proletariat (working class) is living in insufferable conditions and attempts to make advances through revolutions, which are seemingly always suppressed by the powerful and emotionless bourgeois (upper class) who seem far more content on making profits and keeping within their ivory towers than concerning themselves with the suffering of the common man.   If the Soviets were making movies circa 2011 it would be a 99% vs 1% rhetoric, although the revolutionary zeal and artistic output that emerges in his context is far greater than anything which emerged in relation to a bunch of people occupying parks.  Of course, I did not necessarily pick Mother for this month in film, because of its relationship to Marxist politics, although oppression and finding voices against that is certainly something that has emerged in the previous blogs for the month, no, I picked this because I wanted to start mapping a trend I have witnessed, particularly in class fueled narratives of revolt, wherein mother is an image used in a sort of sacrificial exploitation manner, a fact, which is clear in Battleship Potemkin, as well as less obviously in a handful of other films of the era.  I draw upon this film not to critique it stylistically because it is a masterful piece of cinema that is as indicative of the Soviet montage as any of its contemporaries, but, instead; to ask why in a film so concerned with oppression that it makes no qualms about exploiting a female figure for its narrative benefit.

Mother focuses rather loosely on the Russian Revolution of 1905, primarily as it relates to a metallurgy plant set on gaining better wages for their families.  The Mother (Vera Baranovska) is broken down by her lack of food and ability to take care of her family, all of who are equally distraught, the worst of all being her drunkard of a husband who fails to do anything productive.  Yet when he is convinced to help with the revolution efforts he and his son become key figures in the fight, and it is when the father looses his life, that the mother attempts to protect her son from the inquiries of military officers.  Realizing that the mother is protecting secrets she is jailed for a length of time, during which the revolution escalades and her son becomes inextricably tied to the movement, upon release the mother and eventual son who receives his own jailing time, the two are now heavily invested in the movement.  During their final confrontation with their enemies, the son dies and the mother takes up arms as a very real symbol of loss and anger, only to be trampled in an intense scene moments later.  The mother makes for a powerful symbol of sacrifice and one that is from a propaganda standpoint flawless.  Yet, one must remember that as a woman this cause does not allow her to move outside of the domestic space, nor does it afford her any sort of right to correct, say an alcoholic husband, yet her image as a signifier of sacrifice is embraced and pushed to the revolutionary forefront.  One only needs to consider that Russia is often referred to, at least in this era, as the "motherland," yet, mothers, as this film, shows, likely without intention, are the most relegated and othered group within Soviet Russia and their involvement within the revolution was quite exploitative, at once a thing of symbolic empowerment, as well as something to be ignored in the face of the masculine drives of war.

This is, as I already noted not a critique, but simply a consideration.  The mother is a key figure in culture, and in the example of propaganda they exist as a point of problematic exploitation.  I still highly recommend viewing Mother because it is a thing of cinematic perfection, although getting ahold of a quality copy might be a bit expensive.

No comments:

Post a Comment