Cinema Signal:

Toxic Parents:
Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

. "The Whore's Son" (aka, "Hurensohn")

The inescapable impression I got from this coming of age movie is that it was created for the exploitative value of dealing with the subject of prostitution from a sideways perspective. In that, Viennese director Michael Sturminger's film study, based on a novel by Gabriel Loidolt, is sly and voyeuristic, but not very convincing, or, especially, gripping. There is, however, a titilation factor as it pursues its tagline, "In spite of everything, she's still his mom."

Of course, prostitutes have children, and Silvija (Chulpan Khamatova), a reasonably pretty Yugoslavian woman who has moved to Vienna, has a son, whom she loves. They live in a tiny flat with an outside toilet, above a brothel run by a man named Pepi (Georg Friedrich). After a brief prologue, the story starts when son Ozren is 3 (Gabriel Usein).

As an eight-year old, Ozren (Emanuel Usein) doesn't understand why people swear at him on the street, calling him a whore's son and other things he can't grasp, and he turns into a shy, reclusive under-achiever, uncomfortable in the public eye and awkward. When he's called upon to sing with his class mates in a performance for parents, he's unable or unwilling to learn the words and runs out of the auditorium, embarrassed.

We may feel for the plight of the youngster, but so far not much. There's not enough in him to capture our interest in his character, potential or relatives, though uncle Ante (nicely charming Miki Manojlovic) does introduce a little charisma and dimension into the formula.

Nothing much is explained to the boy, either, to enable some form of nascent understanding. Silvija tells Ozren she works as a waitress to cover why she's never home in the evenings, leaving him in the care of his Uncle Ante and Aunt Ljiljana. Out of their own love and protection for the boy they too shelter him from the truth.

As Ozren grows older he slowly begins to understand. He learns about money from his mother, about god from his Aunt Ljiljana (Ina Gogalova), about the world from Uncle Ante, and about whores from Pepi. When Ozren turn into a strapping 16- year old (Stanislav Lisnic), Silvija decides to move out of the flat they share. It's too cramped for both of them, she says, but the truth is that it's become too cramped and downstyle for her business. This is a whore whose attraciveness affords her some choices.

She's never at a loss for money to buy herself stylish clothes, including a stylish fur coat, nor a good wardrobe for Ozren. She just wants him to fend for himself and leave her free to pursue her high life. She'll visit him and leave enough money for his expenses; but he's not to visit or call her.

After working under new pal Pepi as a brothel cleaner, and learning what the business is all about, this rather slow learner begins to understand mother in a way he never could before, and curiosity about his beautiful and elusive parent turns into an obsession. A catastrophe that pushes the envelope of story credibility follows.

Being in the company of Usein's and Lisnic's slow-minded, one-note character for most of the movie, we're strained to develop the sympathy level that would make for a touching or perceptive study. Any other themes that might have contributed relevance in sociological or psychological terms are never brought into it. As a movie experience, it's easy to take but a failed opportunity. We can only guess that the book read better than it plays on screen and wonder what a good Italian filmmaker might have made it into.

In 1952, from Turkey, there was a film called, "The Whore's Daughter." I hope she did better in terms of a character to carry a film and shed some light into the dark spaces of the world's oldest profession.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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