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By Merle Bertrand | February 13, 2001

Telling a Russian boy not to play hockey in the winter time is kinda like telling a Russian man not to drink vodka any time. You’re wasting your breath. Still, Slavka’s got an important cello recital the next morning and, out of respect for his beloved mother’s worries that he’ll injure his hands, he intends to follow her instructions, even though she’s out of town.
Slavka’s father, on the other hand, a burly former Soviet hockey star, has no such reservations. Either that, or the hard-drinking bear of a man urges Slavka to go play hockey just to get him out of their apartment so he can drink and party unchaperoned with his friends.
Whatever the reason, Slavka trades in his black dress shoes for his skates and hits the ice in this touching and surprisingly complex short film from director Serguei Bassine. I don’t want to give away the film’s ending, but suffice it to say that someone at that recital winds up wearing one hideously ugly pair of shoes.
Bassine has provided us with one of the most intimate looks inside the new Russia to date. “Because of Mama” perfectly captures the despair and sense of lost glory we hear that most Russians feel in the post-Soviet era, primarily through Slavka’s father’s palpably repressed rage and apathy.
Yet, Slavka himself symbolizes the hope for Russia’s future. Still an apolitical boy, Slavka implores his father not drink, yet loves him anyway when he reneges on his word. He personifies the Russian version of mom, baseball and apple pie in “Because of Mama”; putting a heartening and humanizing face on a Russia most American still fear almost by instinct.

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