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Film Review by Dean Duncan Oct 3, 2014

One thing that immediately stands out here is that writer/director Joon-ho Bong’s shot selection and scene construction are really, really fine. Scenes are shaped in ways that are stylish and interesting, and maybe just a little bit on the quiet side, at least at first. Out of this restraint and potential energy Bong will eventually fashion all sorts of superb rises and surges—as with Hitchcock (who is very clearly referenced here), Mother works, really registers because of its array of set pieces. These set pieces are quite electrifying: the inciting hit and run, the chillingly quiet interlude with the doomed girl, the hide-in-plain-sight arrest; the wake for the victim, the drunken lawyers, the interrogation of those thoroughly scabrous boys, the recovered memory, the interview with the junk man! All of these are to be savoured, as is the crafty distribution and development of the tortuous plot (temple massages, phones and umbrellas, acupuncture, etc.).

That stuff is suspense-effective, but partly owing to craft, and more to something elusive that may just be art, Mother resonates far beyond mere affect. That final revelation—and the illustration thereof!—is really gut wrenching. It’s also fearsome and pitiable. Like the best of Hitchcock (1936, 1946, 1958), like a few Claude Chabrol films one could think of, Mother brings us into the realms of actual tragedy. It may be that this tragedy is more modern, more (August) Strindbergian than the weighty edifications of Sophocles or Shakespeare. Instead of instruction, are we merely brought to despair?

Finally, probably fundamentally, there’s this central performance. Kim Hye-ja, like Sean Penn and Laura Linney (Clint Eastwood, 2003), like Mother Machree and Lady Macbeth put together. Those dances!