Scary Mother (2018)


Directed by Ana Urushadze
Country: Georgia / Estonia

I found agreeably surprising this disturbing opus orchestrated by Georgian filmmaker Ana Urushadze. “Scary Mother”, her auspicious feature debut, is not a horror film but could definitely have been. Instead, Ms. Urushadze devises a tense psychological drama film, addressing trauma, repression, male domination, and mental nebulosity in a controlled way.

The story, set in Tbilisi, follows Manana (Nato Murvanidze), an undisclosed yet genial middle-aged writer who lives with her husband and children in an old apartment building, which, despite looking like an old pre-war factory from the outside, offers all the comfort in its interior.

Manana owns a sublime imagination, being capable to create astonishing tales that effectively combine the fantastic and the obscene. They are the consequence of dark, destructive, and sanguinary ideas, which she writes on her arm in maniacal impulses, a strange habit that comes from her loveless childhood. The character is so delirious, insecure, and cryptic, that our interest is incessantly turned to her.

The only person she trusts to share her novel is Nukri (Ramaz Ioseliani), a stationery shop owner who lives across the street. As a literary critic and editor, he eagerly pins for publishing her work since he’s quite sure to have a masterpiece in hands. However, this intention is thwarted by Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili), Manana’s intolerant husband, who gets embarrassed with her filthy, cheap pornography, as he likes to describe it. Exceedingly censor in regard to her looks, Anri constantly mentions carelessness in his wife’s behavior to make her feel terrible.

At the time she had to choose between writing and family, the traumatized Manana visited her father, Jarji (Avtandil Makharadze), an estranged, insensitive translator who never loved her. To make things worse, the hallucinatory attacks assault her more often, and we find her ‘reading’ the tiles of her shower with impressive descriptive precision. In urgent need of a new environment to write and gain mental stability, she moves into Nukri’s and an unprecedented love scene is memorably depicted.

Usurping most of the screen time, Ms. Murvanidze proved to be a great fit for the role, winning the Asia Pacific Screen Award for best performance by an actress. I wish her ‘madness’ were taken to those extremes where we would be able to address “Scary Mother” as a creepy film.

Even with fear encircling the story, I had the feeling that the director, besides clarifying the obscurity with a too descriptive finale, could have gone deeper in the real/imaginary duality. Still, her work comes filled with uncanniness and several neurotic moments boosted by Konstantin Esadze’s glowing cinematography and Nika Pasuri’s eerie score.