Issue 38 (2012)

Evgenii Abyzov, Sarik Andreasian, Alan Badoev, Dmitrii Diuzhev, Ashot Keshchian, Tikhon Kornev, Karen Oganesian, El'dar Salavatov: Mamas (Mamy, 2012)

reviewed by Elise Thorsen © 2012

mamasThe premise behind the film Mamas is unobjectionable: be good to your mother and call her on 8 March. And if, because of the sheer number of people congratulating their mothers from afar, the national mobile network collapses, this is no excuse for not going to congratulate her in person.

Mamas is a recent release of the studio Enjoy Movies, which since its debut film Pregnant (2010) has assiduously worked to establish a brand for itself as producing family-friendly cinema. As an almanac film, Mamas seems intended not only to produce warm filial feelings toward mothers, but also to be a showcase for affiliated directors, some of whom have little experience outside of Enjoy Movies, such as Evgenii Abyzov and Ashot Keshchian, and others, who brought their own established popular film credentials along with them to the studio, most particularly the founding member, Sarik Andreasian.

Indeed, through the slogan of Mamas, “Dobroe kino,” the company deliberately extends the binary of dobroe kino versus chernukha and pornukha already familiar from the late 1990s.[1] The stability of this trope of the necessity of dobroe kino—a competition that seems one-sided, as auteur and art-house cinema appears to have continued developing on its own trajectory independently of this polemic—has constituted a site around which, for example, questions of collective identity operate (evident in films generically close to Mamas like Six Degrees of Separation). Box office results in Russia appear comparable to those achieved by popular imports like the Harry Potter and X-Men franchises, suggesting that Russian viewers were effectively drawn to the theaters by the film advertising campaign’s appeal to filial love.

mamasBy contrast to the traditional almanac structure, in which each of the vignette films is presented separately, with or without a framing narrative, Mamas intercuts its vignettes. The effect, in conjunction with its large cast of recognizable and critically acclaimed actors (none of whom seem particularly challenged by their roles, but many of whom it is a pleasure to see), is to place it in the new tradition of ensemble holiday films, east and west. Indeed, the persistent intercutting between narratives, prominence of bright-eyed and articulate young children, and even the introductory sequence portraying a marginalized media figure who will eventually parlay her awkwardness into professional success, suggest a programmatic indebtedness to Richard Curtis’s 2003 Love, Actually, as much as to domestic products such as Timur Bekmambetov’s Six Degrees of Separation franchise.

The intercut plots and the ensemble cast raise expectations that at some point, through linkage and exposition, a unified cinematic world will emerge. The prominent representation of broadcast and social media—television screens, ringtones, and V Kontakte all variously feature in these plots—continually attracts the viewer’s attention as a potential unifying device for the disparate family conflicts. However, the plots of each vignette remain essentially autonomous. The theme given the directors was clearly that a failure of communication technology interferes with the connection between mother and family, but each director’s interpretation of this problem varies wildly. There is no environmental continuity between vignettes, not even at the level of weather. (Either it is pouring in Moscow on the evening of March 8, or it is not, but directors did not communicate among themselves; additionally, Iuliia Grishina can be found playing two entirely different women in the course of the film.)

mamasThe onus is placed on the audience to create a unified understanding of the film, potentially augmented by the effects that the montage of vignettes produces. The cadence established by the intercut vignettes gives the impression that one is watching a season’s worth of serials, each composed of three-minute episodes, more than an emergent polyphonic artistic vision. This television aesthetic is reinforced by the soundtracks and camera movements, more reminiscent of soap opera and sitcom than of experimental film. The domestic affect of television exists in contrast to the tyranny of auteurs exploring their relationships with their mothers more personally, if also with greater lyric accomplishment—consider Tarkovsky’s meditation on this topic with Mirror (1975). The generic and clichéd nature of the vignettes of Mamas potentially allows viewers to position themselves and their relationships to their mothers more readily vis-à-vis the film.

A sense of social mission that drives this film is made explicit in the final manifesto, directed by Sarik Andreasian, about the significance of mothers. (This clip was also distributed separately by the producer on the internet the year before the film was released, and its positive reception likely had a great deal to do with the high theater attendance). The vignette that realizes this general injunction to appreciate mothers more purely is “Anchorwoman,” directed by Tikhon Kornev. The key to success for a rather disorganized and unsuccessful morning show anchor (Anastasia Zavorotniuk), it turns out, is getting comfortable with her doting motherhood on air, much to the chagrin of her schoolboy son (Sergei Pokhodaev). Her reward: recognition from a Moscow producer and, subsequently, from a national audience, as the anchor of a show where other mothers are invited to embarrass their children with photos of naked children.

mamas So, mothers are important; it is important to be good to one’s mother; mothers love you first and most; that’s just the way it is. However, the action to which the sentimental paean to motherhood calls viewers invites further explication. It is important to note that, with few exceptions, this is a film not so much about mothers, but about sons and mothers. More specifically, it is about the importance of the experience of being a son to a mother in order to grow up and be a well-socialized family man.

The importance of a healthy filial relationship is most poignantly underscored in Sarik Andreasian’s vignette “Father and Son,” in which the son (Maikl Striukov) has initiated an internet relationship on V Kontakte in his father’s name, alarmingly mixing the desire for a mother with the motions of finding a wife. The potential future riches for a psychoanalyst apparently dissolve as the father (Egor Beroev) takes control of the situation and provides an art-loving, beautiful mother to his son. However, the experience explicates a  philosophy within the film that the appropriate relationship to one’s mother will clarify all sorts of other personality problems associated with damaged masculinity.

mamasIndeed, the absent mother has had a clearly negative impact on the heroes of two other vignettes. The orphan and petty gangbanger (Mikhail Porechenkov) of Karen Oganesian’s “I am not Kolia” finally has the chance to experience maternal care and pastries as he steps in for an absent son. In Dmitrii Diuzhev’s “To My Beloved,” a financially successful serial divorcé (Sergei Bezrukov) returns to his humble roots to bid farewell properly to his mother, who has died while he was busy building his fortune. This journey allows him to realize consciously that his true goal is to find a life partner who reminds him of his mother.

In El'dar Salavatov’s kid-power vignette “Operation M,” a young but precocious boy (Semen Treskunov) must show amazing persistence in order to avert the plight of motherlessness that afflicts the heroes of other vignettes. He must see his mother (Kseniia Buravskaia) on Women’s Day, against the express prohibition of his oligarch father (Gosha Kutsenko), who has been left wounded by his estranged wife’s infidelity. Incredibly, the fulfillment of the son’s mission helps to mend Kutsenko’s broken trust and rekindle, if not love for his son’s mother, then at least a sense of family wholeness. Crisis of masculinity averted.

Even in those vignettes that draw on less negative portraits of masculinity, there is the remaining question of why exactly mothers are so important. Evgenii Abyzov’s vignette “The Card,” for example, is dedicated to a family’s efforts to give their mother an extraordinary gift instead of just another kitchen appliance. The climax of this vignette is that moment of trust when, for all of the fearful coquetting, mother Natasha (Marina Golub) entrusts herself to the hands of her skydiving-instructor son (Ivan Dobronravov) and jumps out of an airplane. By all appearances, it seems that the importance of mothers is as objects through which men can realize their desire to love and support unconditionally.

mamasThe near-lakirovka of the unbroken middle-class family of “The Card” heightens a latent anxiety of the film, the suspicion that, in spite of the possibly sincere intent behind an SMS or flowers, these gestures have been emptied and these traditional bonds are threatened as a result. Nowhere is this clearer than in Ashot Keshchian’s “Mama, Add Money.” Here, Aleksei Gorbunov plays the director of a shady company that phishes for money from gullible women who are not savvy with technology. Despite the director’s bombastic rhetoric about the importance of mothers to his employees, he fails utterly to protect  his own rather fragile mother (Nina Ruslanova) from his depredations. The revelation of the detrimental effect of technology on the trust and sanctity of the filial relationship leads, interestingly, to the formation of a social action organization for protection against fraud.

An organization for combatting telefraud may be a somewhat unsatisfactory address of the problem of families flung far apart in the modern era; technology proves a terribly deficient glue for fraying filial bonds. However, this almanac sets out to use the devices and technologies of film to rescue the mother-son relationship; perhaps its television aesthetic evokes the domestic sphere and the communal activity of watching television. Indeed, television is explicitly cited in such a capacity in Alan Badoev’s vignette, “The Partner,” where a cop on the narcotics beat (Dmitrii Diuzhev) ends up taking down a dealer, thanks to his diminutive but vivacious mother (Liia Akhedzhakova) and her extensive knowledge of police serials. His penance for not taking her seriously previously is to sit and watch television with her, in a reconstructed relationship of respect.

We will have the opportunity to test some of the hypotheses about the construction of the Mamas film in the near future. The holiday-themed almanac film seems to be assuming increasing prominence in Russia, where the Bekmambetov-produced Six Degrees of Separation (2010) and Six Degrees of Separation 2 (2011) have dominated the New Year’s film niche thus far. However, having put out a toe in the less crowded Women’s Day pool, Enjoy Movies is promising direct competition to this year’s third installment of Six Degrees with Happy New Year, MAMAS, currently in production.

1] This phenomenon was noted in English in Jane Knox-Voina’s assessment of the 1996 and 1997 Sochi International Film Festivals.

Elise Thorsen
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Knox-Voina, Jane. “‘Everything Will Be OK’: A New Trend in Russian Film,” Russian Review 56.2 (Apr., 1997): 286-290.

Mamas, Russia, 2012
Color, 103 minutes
Screenplays: Ol'ga Antonova (Lead), Sarik Andreasian, Tikhon Kornev, Aleksei Nuzhnyi, Irina Pivovarova, Sergei Kaluzhanov
Cinematography: Anton Zenkovich
Music: Il'ia Dukhovnyi, Darin Sysoev
Editing: Kirill Kozlov
Art: David Dadunashvili, Anna Andreeva, Gul'nara Shakhmilova
Producers: Georgii Malkov, Sarik Andreasian, Gevond Andreasian (Enjoy Movies)

“Anchorwoman” (Vedushchaia)
Director: Tikhon Kornev
Cast: Anastasiia Zavorotniuk, Igor' Vernik, Andrei Fedortsov, Sergei Pokhodaev

“Mama, Add Money” (Mama, polozhi den'gi)
Director: Ashot Keshchian
Cast: Aleksei Gorbunov, Nina Ruslanova, Ol'ga Tumaikina, Mikhail Krylov, Iuliia Grishina, Ararat Keshchian, Il'ia Kostiukov

“I’m Not Kolia” (Ia – ne Kolia)
Director: Karen Oganesian
Cast: Mikhail Porechenkov, Ekaterina Vasil'eva, Mikhail Gorevoi, Sergei Gazarov

“Operation M” (Operatsiia “M”)
Director: El'dar Salavatov
Cast: Gosha Kutsenko, Semen Treskunov, Ivan Kokorin, Kseniia Buravskaia

“Father and Son” (Otets i syn)
Director: Sarik Andreasian
Cast: Egor Beroev, Ravshana Kurkova, Maikl Striukov

“To My Beloved” (Moei liubimoi)
Director: Dmitrii Diuzhev
Cast: Sergei Bezrukov, Elena Korikova, Iuliia Grishina

“The Card” (Otkrytka)
Director: Evgenii Abyzov
Cast: Marina Golub, Fedor Dobronravov, Ivan Dobronravov, Ekaterina Artemenko

“The Partner” (Naparnik)
Director: Alan Badoev
Cast: Dmitrii Diuzhev, Liia Akhedzhakova, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Petr Fedorov


Evgenii Abyzov, Sarik Andreasian, Alan Badoev, Dmitrii Diuzhev, Ashot Keshchian, Tikhon Kornev, Karen Oganesian, El'dar Salavatov: Mamas (Mamy, 2012)

reviewed by Elise Thorsen © 2012

Updated: 29 Oct 12