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TIFF 2023: ‘Your Mother’s Son’ Disturbs as It Teeters on the Line Between Love and Abuse


film still of your mother's son
Courtesy of TIFF

Directed by Jun Robles Lana, who brought Bwakaw to TIFF back in 2012, Your Mother’s Son explores the complicated relationship between Sarah (Sue Prado) and her son Emman (Kokoy de Santos). The pair lives in a small village in the Philippines; Sarah, a former schoolteacher, works two jobs — preparing food orders and teaching English courses online (and doing both from home) — while Emman was recently laid off from his restaurant job as a result of it closing because of the pandemic.


Unemployed and restless, Emman spends his days pretending to look for a job, but, in actuality, he leaves the house in order to secretly get high and have sex with Amy (Elora Españo), Sarah’s assistant. To Amy, Sarah and Emman’s circumstances raise many questions, but neither are forthcoming with details. It isn’t until Sarah brings home Oliver (Miggy Jimenez), one of her online students who is being physically abused by his father, that things start to unravel and the truth about Sarah and Emman finally come to light in the most devastating way.


Your Mother’s Son is intentional in the way that it subverts expectation and disturbs at every turn as the web of lies that entangle Sarah and Emman — and, eventually, Amy and Oliver — fall apart. Teresa Barrozo’s score throughout is appropriately spare but haunting, and cinematographer Moises Zee’s camera is patient and precise. Combined with the use of longer takes, Lana makes us viewers the unwitting houseguest in this domestic drama, stirring our need for answers while making us dread their discovery.


As it turns out, Sarah and Emman aren’t mother and son, but husband and wife. However, this isn’t revealed until much later in the film, certainly well after we see them have sex (which seems fuelled more by anger than love). For most of the film, as a result, you wonder if Emman has an Oedipus Complex — after all, this is a film festival title, so you convince yourself nothing taboo is off limits. But Oliver’s presence disrupts and reveals all: Emman was Sarah’s former student, and it’s implied he was the prey and she was the predator, taking advantage of his youth and her power to convince him that what he is experiencing was love.


The last act of the film, and especially the chilling final moments, won’t be spoiled here, but the simmering performances from Prado and de Santos inevitably turn explosive. Prado is excellent in the way that she infuses Sarah’s conniving edge with something that feels almost like maternal warmth. Meanwhile, de Santos’ ability to live in the different shades of pain and rage defies his age.


If, as the credits roll, you find that Your Mother’s Son was hard to watch and even harder to define, that’s because, like all relationships between an abuser and the abused, it should be.

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