Voyage vers la mère (Journey to the Mother) (2015)
Release Date: March 27th, 2015 (Phoenix Film Festival) MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Mikhail Kosyrev-Nesterov Actors: Adele Exarchopoulos, Artyom Alekseev
couple on motorcycles races along a vertiginous road, stopping at the top of a cliff to make out and fondle one another (allowing for a gratuitous flash of breasts). When a cell phone lodged in the rocks begins to ring, they’re shocked to discover that it was thrown from a vehicle – flipped over across the way and still containing an injured man inside. An ambulance is called, the man’s condition is deemed stable, and his sister is called to the hospital to see him.
From here, the story reverts back to the events leading up to the wreck: Maxim (Artyom Alekseev) journeys to his mother’s house in the country (on the outskirts of Marseilles). He hasn’t seen her, Ludmila, in a year and only plans on visiting for three days. Though he hikes, strikes up a tennis match, swims, and goes for drives, he’s plagued by problems with his girlfriend back home and his mum’s inquisitiveness over visits to his father, Paul. When Ludmila has a stroke and is whisked away to intensive care, Maxim must brace himself for a potentially difficult recovery.
The film starts with mundane chores (like mowing the lawn) and routines (like eating breakfast or playing with Dadu the dog) before moving into even duller activities. Maxim reminisces about his Russian mother’s gatherings and parties, chats with her about befriending Annie the milkmaid, and catches up (via flashbacks) with sister Marie-Louise (Adele Exarchopoulos), who visits from Paris (where she studies and recently dealt with an unplanned pregnancy by former boyfriend Henri). As little more than observations on workaday events, the pacing is slow – designed to create plenty of time for audiences to familiarize themselves with Maxim’s general mindset and the relationship with his mother (and sister). But it instead creates lulls in the plot that can’t be resuscitated even with sudden tragedies. Shots of gardens, roads, skylines, the ocean, public places, and various other environments fill so much screentime; it’s as if the story desperately needed filler minutes of scenery to pad the script’s inadequate, pithy length.
In a particularly odd cinematic gimmick, the mother is never shown; she’s in numerous scenes, but remains always out of sight of the camera. In wider shots, it’s particularly strange that she’s not visible – she doesn’t even cast a shadow. If it weren’t for characters referencing her presence and speaking to her as she sits slightly offscreen, viewers might wonder if she’s intended to be a memory or hallucination – or some sort of allegory. But even this one filmic eccentricity isn’t enough to spice up a plodding examination of remorse, assigning blame, channeling tempers, forgiveness, and extensive periods of mourning (eventually supplemented by booze). The characters merely move through the moments, generating no sympathy or depth or even personalities deserving of a feature project. And since the narrative initiated at the ending – in a hopelessly clichéd storytelling structure – the sustained tepidness of the plot is even more excruciatingly predictable.
– Mike Massie