The film from Estonia this year is Mother, the third feature directed by Kadri Kousaar, and her first at Tribeca. A serio-comic mystery set in a small town, it stars Tiina Malberg as a woman caring for her comatose adult son, who was shot by an unknown assailant.
I sat down with Kadri and Aet Laigu, the film’s producer, and Leana Jalukse, the screenwriter, before the film’s premiere at the festival on April 14th. All three women are at the forefront of Estonia’s burgeoning film production industry, which is making a long-delayed but serious entry in the international marketplace. They were eager to take advantage of the greater exposure that Tribeca affords them.
They were excited about the film’s prospects in the international narrative category, and were also hopeful about Ms. Malberg’s chances for a best actress award. Ms. Laigu, who had co-written the script with Ms. Jalukse, explained that she always had Malberg in mind for the leading role. A highly regarded stage actress in Estonia, Malberg also felt it was a perfect vehicle for her to get the attention of film producers.
Aet pointed out that, because the script won a contest sponsored by the government, they were able to complete production faster than most films, perhaps the fastest ever shot in that country. The Estonian government provided nearly all of the financing, and, politics being what it is, the team knew this was an opportunity they couldn’t afford to waste.
It probably helped that they had such confidence in the story, in its universal appeal. The nature of small town life, and the stifling of emotional fulfillment there, is something that even foreign audiences can relate to. It also deals with how the capacity to feel love may not be found in some people.
Kadri said that she had always thought of herself as a writer first, since she was at least thirteen. She had published novels and been host of her own radio show before becoming a filmmaker, and still plans a career in multiple roles. When asked about what early film inspired her to be a a director, she mentioned Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which, incidentally, was partly shot in the section of Estonia they were from. But what really opened her eyes was Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter. She couldn’t get over that a woman had made this powerful film, which was still a rarity at the time. Another inspiring film was Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher.
There are recurring thematic elements in Kousaar’s films, and she likes having the chance to explore them further. One aspect of Mother, as was evident in her first film, Magnus, is how people deal with what society expects them to do, rather than what they really want. Such as having children. But all three women agreed that they are most interested in telling stories about women who may be forced to take extreme actions, due to circumstances, but not to pass judgment on them. They’ll have no trouble dealing with – in Kadri’s words – “taboo subjects”.
Aet was most excited about completing their upcoming film, Nordic Instinct, which Kadri had co-written with Leana and which Kadri will direct. There was a casting problem – Aet had to replace the lead actor – but all roles are set now. She’ll be going to Cannes this year to promote it – in a program called “Producers on the Move” – and hopes to wrap up the financing there. As managing director of their production company, Meteoriit Film, Aet is optimistic about this because the script is “very strong”.
As for Kadri, she’s ready to start shooting tomorrow, and isn’t shy about how much she dislikes the details of producing and budgeting. Yes, she said, she just likes the fun part.
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