The Road to Mother has an apt comparison recently in the form of Terry George’s “The Promise.” Both films detail a significant historical moment for its host countries that might have remained obscured for many people with the passage of time. Both films chronicle over many years the story of love between a man and a woman, separated by the social and political strife with the threat of war looming. And both films offer up concentrated villains who can be blamed for all the unethical actions taken to disenfranchised villagers stricken with poverty.
The most significant difference, however, is in how they tell their stories. Where “The Promise” placed its fictional romantic plot at the foreground of dense political history, The Road to Mother does the opposite, much to its detriment. The film, directed by Akan Satayev (“Hacker”), comes directly from Kazakhstan itself, as an independent production which details the history of Kazakhstan over the course of fifty years. There’s a lot to disclose in two hours, and with breakneck pacing explaining its sociopolitical context, it can overwhelm as the plot attempts to set itself up.
Simply put, the film follows the life of Ilyas (Adil Akhmetov), a young Kazakh boy, who finds himself separated at a young age from his mother and childhood sweetheart (Altynai Nogherbek and Aruzhan Jazilbekova), and who spends the rest of his life trying to find a way home. This premise takes 35 minutes to establish alongside the political conditions that led to civil war, and the story struggles to find new ways of keeping Ilyas from his home in order to further elaborate on the history of Kazakhstan before independence. The connection between story and plot is tenuous and at its very worst comes off as Kazakhstan’s answer to “The Fall of Berlin.”
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with taking pride in one’s country in some cases, and The Road to Mother benefits from having this perspective. Its sense of achievement is vicarious, complemented by gorgeous cinematography of Kazakh landscapes by Khasan Kydyraliyev. Commendations should be made for creating a large sense of scale without the funds to finance the full scope the film surely wishes to convey. At times, its budget quality exposes itself when trying to pose as an epic, like “Doctor Zhivago,” but often times the locations themselves sell the vastness trying to be achieved.
It’s a shame that the final result is a rather boring film overall, desperately in need of an editor willing to cut the fat off. The plot gradually takes on absurdity, especially before the war, as a resolution presents itself only to be taken away because more of Kazakhstan’s history has yet to be told. Without spoiling any of its story, the final reveal in The Road to Mother encapsulates the entire experience of watching the movie.
The Road to Mother is long, it’s dull, it’s slightly tedious, and one can’t help but watch the clock, wishing for it to finally conclude. The animated Kazakh flag blowing proudly is a delightfully cheesy note to end on as well.