Like most Icelanders these days, this director is going broke. After his last film about “old people wandering around in the rain and fog” bombed, he cannot even land a gig directing Paris Hilton in a Viking picture. Further complicating matters, his mother’s slow mental decline is demanding an ever increasing share of his time and attention. This is definitely Scandinavian cinema, but director Fridrik Thór Fridriksson brings a surprisingly light touch to bear on his heavy subject matter in Mamma Gógó (trailer here), Iceland’s official submission for best foreign language Oscar consideration, which screens this coming Sunday during the Scandinavian Film Festival L.A.
We never do hear his name, but it is clear the filmmaker was always his mother Gógó’s favorite. His two sisters certainly knew it. Even if he had not just released a film about old people escaping from a nursing home, it would be difficult for him to install his mother in such a place. Unfortunately, her bad moments are getting progressively worse, leading to considerable property damage as well as some perilously close calls. The hard truth is the demands of caring for a mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is simply beyond the director’s capabilities. Frankly, he is not even able to support his own family.
While the mother-son relationship undeniably represents the heart and soul of the film, there is also a sly self-referential element to Gógó. Children of Nature, the unnamed director’s financial sink-hole, was also the title of Fridriksson’s 1992 foreign language Academy Award nominee. Indeed, Gógó’s director son is pinning his hopes on his film’s Oscar campaign. Meanwhile, in the real world, there is a quite an active effort underway for Fridriksson’s Gógó.
Winner of the Edda Award (Iceland’s equivalent of the Oscar), Kristbjörg Kjeld is definitely the film’s trump card. As Gógó, her descent into obliviousness is subtle and heartbreakingly believable. It is a pretty gutsy performance in what is not always the most dignified role. Though his character is more than a bit wishy-washy, Hilmir Snær Guðnason nicely handles the film’s more satiric material, while also nicely conveying the director’s strained but loving relationship with Gógó.
Despite its overall themes and eventual destination, one would not automatically describe Gógó as a depressing film, thanks to Fridriksson’s deft balancing act. Though not necessarily amongst the leading front-runners, Fridriksson’s Oscar credentials and Kjeld’s strong lead performance, perfectly suited to Academy tastes, should at least put Gógó in the top quarter of the field. It also does not hurt that it will be screening in the greater Los Angeles-area this weekend, just as voters get serious about their ballots. Funnier and more entertaining than one might expect, it is definitely worth checking out at the WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival L.A.