Blending just the right amount of bleached Eastern European realness with surreal metaphor, Scary Mother is a dark and brooding tale of female autonomy.
Housewife and mother Manana (Nato Murvanidze) reveals to her family the book she has written. Her husband, Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili), monstrous in his casual denigration of her, is horrified at her intense, macabre and sexual prose. He sees it as an embarrassing indictment of himself and her family. Her only advocate is stationery shop owner Nukri (Ramaz Ioseliani) who insists she is a genius, offering her the room at the back of the shop when her ‘uneducated’ husband insists she burnt her manuscript and write something normal.
Manana is an odd and enigmatic character. Coming across as an ordinary woman, we can see that she’s actually extraordinary, seeing scenes and images that no one else can see, writing words on her arm so they don’t escape. She is an artist but, because she is a woman and a mother and a wife and lives in conservative Tbilisi, this provokes a fear in those around her. And in herself. To deny what is expected of her makes her monstrous and we are given little hints – the clicking soundtrack, fragments about her mother – of how pervasive this is.
Director Ana Urushadze’s colour palette and framing are exquisite, contrasting the brutalist decaying architecture of Tbilisi with the richness and sparseness of interiors. This is Urushadze’s first feature film and it is masterly in its restraint and in the beauty of its staging and cinematography. Murvanidze carries the film and creates in Manana a character of depth and stillness who never comes across as a victim, despite her tribulations. I love her single-mindedness, her laughter when things are looking grim, her persistence in spite of it all. It reminded me a little of My Happy Family, a Georgian film from MIFF last year that had an equally powerful woman of the same name.
The final scene brings it all together beautifully and we can finally see what has brought Manana to this moment and where she will go from here.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.