Motherly instinct is a powerful force in all creatures (human and others). From the heat of conception (wanted or forced), through the trials of gestation and then the agony/ecstasy of birth (unless if interrupted or terminated by disease, disaster or purposeful destruction) the duty to nurture and protect is as ingrained as the act of coupling that begins the process.
Yet every day since the beginning of time, children in all parts of our ever-expanding globe start their precious, innocent lives with the odds stacked so firmly against them that much of the world’s collective grief can be traced back to rape, incest, ignorance and pathetic hope (“We’ll never get pregnant this one time without using protection.”).
Meet Liubov. The daughter of a whore, her maidenhood’s sold at 14 to one of her mother’s eager tricks for a litre of vodka. Eight years and nine children later (including twins) she packs up her loved ones and begins the never-ending trek away from her “bastard lazy husband” to raise her brood on her own.
Director/writer Antoine Cattin’s chronicle of this single-parent family of the damned should be required viewing for all sides of the abortion issue, carefree/careless young lovers and lecherous men (and the occasional woman who plays fast and loose with others’ lives) who happily fuck with abandon and then abandon the fucked.
Cattin begins Liubov’s story on the image-rich train ride across all manner of Russian landscape. He has (along with co-director Pavel Kostomarov) found an excellent balance between the worn-out mom’s candid recollections and intercuts to her present-day struggle to survive on a dairy farm.
Her eldest daughter, Olessia does more than her share around the house and barn. Her love of animals (a fabulous cow licking scene, incredibly demonstrates her innate kindness) is only surpassed by her devotion to the family (whether horsing around like giddy school girls with her mother or keeping her younger siblings in line).
Murzik is a typically rebellious teenager: he’s foul-mouthed, rude, lazy, perpetually ready for a fight and prepared to enlist in the army even though his eldest-son status could trump that requirement. The rest of the men in Liubov’s new life aren’t much better. Taken in out of pity during the harsh winter, stablehand Sergey enjoys his afternoon delight with his benefactor then calls her a bitch, bringing back memories of many bastards past.
The one man of hope is Zhenia, who actually pulls his weight in the chores department but, no doubt, finds his inspiration to do so in his fiancée, Olessia. The coming nuptials palpably glow on the Mother of the Bride’s face as the day arrives and the feast is prepared (and guarded from the ravenous kids!). Magically, the music, dance and vodka wash away the daily pain that physically and mentally ravages body and soul of the stoic matriarch.
But soon, her world collapses again with the incarceration of her son-in-law on an assault charge. As the train draws closer to its final destination, there is bittersweet joy in the arrival of a granddaughter. Yet, given the truly miserable existence that’s been so honestly captured and shared to date, we leave the theatre with a gnawing fear that the next generation of women will fare no better than the rest. JWR