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Monday, September 18, 2023



(Review by Patrick Compton)

Mother is part of The European Film Festival 2023 which runs from October 12 to 22, 2023 with screenings of all 16 films at cinemas in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and limited screenings in Durban, and online.

“We do not have a word for ‘dream’, nor do we have a word for ‘future’.

This devastating observation motivates Bulgarian theatre director Elena (Daria Simeonova) to work in an orphanage in the slum of Kibera outside Nairobi in Kenya. Children, she devoutly believes, do not live by bread alone, but need to give artistic expression to their lives and culture in whatever way they can. 

Based on a true story, writer-director Zornitsa Sophia’s Mother is how Elena – unable to have children herself – finds her calling thousands of kilometres away from her homeland. She becomes, in effect, a mother to many.

It’s an extraordinary tale, one that forces the viewer to contemplate his/her own life in the midst of the kind of poverty, deprivation and desperation that permeates our planet.

The story begins in Bulgaria where Elena is unable to have children with her husband Leon, a music director. She successfully works with children in her town outside the capital, Sofia, but is offered an opportunity to try and translate her work in a completely different environment.

Elena experiences personal and existential crises in Kibera as she wrestles with her life, her failing relationship with her husband, and some of the dreadful social and medical problems in the slum. The head of the children’s home, Matt – the movie’s conscience – is sceptical about the true commitment of European aid agencies and their agenda and Elena becomes intensely aware of this.

At one stage, Leon, who tries to tempt her to return home, tells her: “I just want you to be happy”. She replies, somewhat mysteriously: “I don’t want to be happy.” The complexity of this reply informs the rest of the film.

Mother is not – thankfully – a film that swims in sentiment though there are plenty of opportunities for it to do so, particularly with regard to Elena’s relationship with one of the children, Jomo. If there is a criticism, it is that too much space is given to Elena’s rather formulaic relationship with her husband, and not enough to Matt and his co-worker at the children’s home. - Patrick Compton

Screenings take place at Ster-Kinekor’s The Zone in Johannesburg, and The Labia in Cape Town. Each film will screen once.

Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Durban will present a limited programme of films not available in the online streaming. Five of the most recent films will only show in cinemas: Anatomy Of A Fall, Goodbye Julia, The Old Oak, The Teachers Lounge and Mavka – The Forest Song. 11 films can be viewed for free online.

Visit for more information or click on the European Film Festival logo to the right of this article.