Mother's Paradise (Ray dlya Mamy): Film Review

Poetry, warmth lifts melancholy tale of a mother's battle against the odds

Directed by Kyrgyz-born Aktan Arym Kubat, “Mother's Paradise” is a tale of a fractured family struggling to cope with economic hardship.


WIESBADEN - Set in rural Kazakhstan, scripted by the Iranian maestro Mohsen Makhmalbaf and directed by Kyrgyz-born Aktan Arym Kubat, Mother's Paradise is a universal tale of a fractured family struggling to cope with economic hardship. Playing off the insouciance of infancy against the cares and woes of parenthood and old age, the film is melancholic rather than downbeat, with touches of poetry that make it more than just another report from the poverty front. Kubat's previous film The Light Thief brought him considerable international exposure following a screening in Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 2010, and he can reasonably hope to go one better with this modestly resourced but distinctly appealing work.

Small-town life is no joy-ride for Serikbai and Amir who are having to grow up without their father, lured away to Russia in the search for work. The brothers, aged around seven and 10, live with their mother Polina (Olga Landina), sleeping three to a bed in an apartment shared with her elderly father Marat (Mikhail Zhigalov) and his sister Asiya (Natalya Arinbasarova). The local factory has closed down. When funds run low Marat sells household objects and the family's few treasured possessions to the neighbors. Polina has little to sell but her body. Among those who exploit her vulnerability are a school director who professes concern about her children and the local police chief who threatens to bring charges against Amir after he steals back his father's cherished accordion. The children's discovery of her secret is bad enough, but there is worse to come as Polina is driven to despair.

Kubat concentrates on the children's point of view, notably their longing for their father's return, but he allows the bickering but loving elderly siblings their time in the sun too, bringing flashes of humor and moments of tenderness into a story that could too easily become a lament.

The life of the community, bathed in gentle, autumnal sunlight, is sparely but fully realized, with the railway line providing the main link to a remote and apparently uncaring world. It's the railway tracks, on which the town's children leave notes where they have written down their secret wishes, that provide the film's closing image (the meaning of the film's title only becomes clear in the final exchanges). Impeccably acted, enriched by Renat Gaisin's haunting score, there is sadness and wisdom in this timeless tale which is also a play for today as relevant to Detroit or Dundee as it is to central Asia. 


Production company: Tanaris Production
Director: Aktan Arym Kubat
Photography: Rafik Galeev
Writer: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Cast: Olga Landina, Mikhail Zhigalov, Natalya Arinbasarova, Yan Baizhanbaev, Bolat Kalimbetov
Producer: Sergey Azimov
Editor: LLP "Kubik"
Music: Renat Gaisin
Foreign sales: B-Tween (France)
Running time: 80 minutes