Once settled into the routine of adulthood and all the burdens it entails, the memories of what it means to be a kid rapidly vanish. Perhaps it is not
childhood itself that is forgotten, but the decision-making process that seemed logical back then, may now appear absurd. In touch with those youngster
concerns, Janis Nords’ touching feature Mother, I Love You is a cross breed between the preteen rebelliousness of both Truffaut’s iconic The 400 Blows and the more recent work from the Dardennes The Kid with a Bike. For all the similarities with the
preceding films, there is something amusingly original and emotionally profound here, the stakes are higher and the leading character is layered with moral
dilemmas not often associated with kids that age in film.
Saxophonist by day and troublemaker by choice, Raimonds (Kristofers Konovalovs) is a 12-year-old kid who tends to misbehave and who solves problems with solutions on the mischievous
side. Starting to be curious about the opposite sex, he plays pranks on the girls in his class and with the help of his best bud Peteris (Matiss Livcans), they skip school
and pass the time dreaming up ways to have fun without being caught by their respective mothers. Unfortunately for Raimonds, his plans are cut short as he
weaves a string of lies and minor crimes from which he can’t seem to escape. Nords’ premise could be described as the literal cinematic depiction of the
phrase “rob Peter to pay Paul’. It is apparent that Raimonds’ focus is not on the consequences of his acts in the practical sense (going to prison,
getting expelled), but rather on his mother will perceive them.
At the core of the film is the rocky relationship Raimonds has with his hardworking mother (Vita Varpina). She demands his good behavior as a way to show her he
appreciates the long hours she labors at the hospital to provide for him. But when a negative conduct report is issued for his mother to sign, Raimonds’
plan to keep it hidden escalates into an even bigger ordeal. Additionally, the boys decide to play around in the wealthy apartment Preteris’ mother cleans
for a living. Their recurrent escapades lead Raimond into risky situations including losing his valuable instrument right before a school concert,
stealing to recover it, betraying his comrade, and disappointing his mother. Wiser after going through it all, he eventually realizes that running from his
mistakes will only cause more damage.
Newcomer Kristofers Konovalovs carries the film with a performance of remarkable assertiveness even
as his sketchy castle of lies begins to fall apart. On the other hand the young actor displays such a pure naiveté that the audience understands implicitly that his
unsuccessful choices and lack of judgment are always aimed at fixing things without troubling the person he loves the most. The rest of the cast, specially Vita Varpina
as Raimonds’ only parent, also achieve a naturalism portraying these everyday characters whose lives, by the power of film, suddenly become interesting and relevant.
Impressively heartfelt and intimate, Mother, I Love You, is in essence an opportunity to reconnect with that boy or girl everyone was once.
Nords brilliantly directs his lead actor to ensure his behavior and moral compass are aligned with his age. The motivations behind what he does aren’t derived
from wanting to be bad, but instead from wanting to be good while still being a kid. Combined with this, the alluring beauty of the cinematography creates
something special and more stylized than mere cinema verite. These conscious choices by the filmmaker make the film stand out in
a crowded field of similar works and also render it oddly relatable. After all, who didn’t break mom’s favorite flower vase at some time and was scared of
what she might think or do. In the most irrational way, the underlining concern is to still be loved and know one will be forgiven. Nords captures such
state with pragmatic tenderness.