Set in a small town in Eastern Estonia, Mother (Ema) is a homespun crime story about rash decisions made in the name of dreams that will have haunting consequences for some time to come. The film focuses on Elsa, a 50-year old woman, whose adult son is left in a coma after a shooting incident. Taking care of him at home, she has to face a whole town trying to solve the puzzle of what exactly happened.
The array of suspects include a friend whose real estate business is failing, a girlfriend who has patiently waited for too long, a pupil in the throes of her first love and her potentially overprotective dad, a childhood friend who relies on medication to stay in control, a huntsman for whom the man was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and a school principle who has the hots for Elsa. But in a small town, where everyone knows everyone and everything except for what’s right under their nose, the world’s clumsiest crime may go unsolved.
The striking film Mother premieres internationally at 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. We met with the female-driven filmmakers: director Kadri Kõusaar, co-writer Leana Jalukse, and producer Aet Laigu, on their inspirations and origins of the film, challenges in filmmaking, advice to other women filmmakers and more.
Find More Information & Tickets to “Mother” at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival – HERE
How did you get the inspiration for this film?
Leana Jalukse: The idea came from Al Wallcat. We collaborated on a number of projects together before. One of us gets the idea and then we go from there. The basic set-up was a mother taking care of a grown-up son and a number of people around them. Then we developed this idea: what happened to that man, who are the characters that have been in his life, who is responsible. That’s how the story was born.
Kadri, you have been writing and in the media since you were thirteen years old. What made you decide to take on this project as a director?
Kadri Kõusaar: At that time I was a fresh mother so I wasn’t writing any scripts. This was a very fascinating story, it touches a taboo subject and for me, my favorite films always deal with that. It takes place in this great atmosphere. I saw a great opportunity.
Can you talk more about developing the lead character? A mother that takes care of her son, the entire household and dealing with the small-town.
Leana: The character that we had in mind is very common in Estonia. That generation marries early, has kids, and does what the society expects. As long as there is this facade, where you have a nice house with a beautiful garden and children, you are supposed to be happy, even if you’re not. There is a line in the film that my mom said sums it all up. When this younger woman says but you can manage. My mom said that’s the essence of what their life is like. You can manage, so why are you complaining?
Aet Laigu: it is inspired by people we know, our families, this older generation. It’s not like that so much anymore. In our generation we don’t just want to manage, we have more opportunities and pursue them.
This is an all-female production team. Not very common in the film industry. Was it challenging?
Aet: it is a very male-dominated industry. You can see that as a producer. During a reception in Berlin, I was the only woman in the room. In Sweden for instance, there’re actually laws that dictate how much financing should go to female directors or projects that have a certain percentage going towards women. That’s the only way we can do it there.
EWA (European Women’s Audiovisual Network) published a research they made over the years of how many women go to film school (which was more than 40%), how many films are made by women and why do they disappear in between. A big thing was that they just don’t get the funding. When asked why would you hire a man in the TV Company as a director, the answer was because women are too bossy.
Kadri: When I was touring, traveling with my other film years ago, that was playing in festivals, it was very rare to see other women. It has something to do with biology too. When you’re raising children, or giving birth, that can be a challenge. Also a single mother, you don’t have that financial support. But I do think it is getting better.
How did you find the main actress Tiina Mälberg?
Kadri: I saw her in a theater play. In Estonia everybody kind of knows everyone. I might have heard her name, but never knew her. In a way that’s actually why she was perfect for the role. She lives in a small town. Her whole career is similar to the character Mother. Tiina moved to a small town with her now ex-husband, because he was offered a good job there, sacrificing her career. They now are divorced and she stayed in the small town, because of the children. She clicked so well with the character. She knows what it means to live in a small town, moving there, giving up your dreams.
The look and story of the film reminds me of Fargo. How did you develop this dark comedy feeling?
Kadri: When we were prepping the project, writing the directors notes, Fargo was what I remembered. It has sort of the same atmosphere, the dark-humorous documentary, and sloppy style. It was also an inspiration for the script, it’s similar to the small town, people trying to work on better deals.
Any advice for other women filmmakers?
Leana: a lot of people said they could see that this film was made by women. We should use our knowledge, that insight we have and put it to work. Men read very differently. I think its strength creating female characters in the future. One of the latest reviews said the men in our film are portrayed as women usually are in films. For me, this was a compliment.
Kadri: Open your souls.
Aet: As a producer I’m interested in making films about women because I am one. If I would advise anything it would be to do things that you know about, then you can give the most and it will help you along. If I want to make a film about a man, I would definitely need to get a man on board to write the script. It works both ways.
About the Director
Kadri Kõusaar (1980) is an award-winning young female director from Estonia, whose debut feature Magnus (2007) opened in the official selection of Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard). Mother is her third feature film.
— Interview conducted by Lia Fietz