“Son of Sophia” had its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and is now a powerful part of the annual Chicago European Union Film Festival. Written and directed by Elina Psykou and staring Victor Khomut as a young boy, wrestling with issues of betrayal, abandonment, and love as he leaves childhood behind. This thought-provoking and psychologically deep film about a mother and her son creates an intriguingly insightful look at growing up in less than ideal circumstances.
Misha (Khomut), a quiet and reserved 11 year-old travels on his own from Russia to Athens to live with his mother, Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa). The two have been separated for years and their reunion shows the unfamiliarity but obligatory connection. The living situation is just one of the many surprises for Misha as he learns that he and his mother will be living with an older gentleman, Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou). This man, he will discover, is also his new stepfather. It’s evident that Misha still needs his mother and isn’t ready for this new “father” in his life. He is still a young boy at heart as we see him clinging to the comfort of fairy tales. Jarringly, he is then abruptly pulled into the world of an older boy with no parental influence. The struggle is palpable as Misha grows up in this foreign land, not understanding the language and thrust into a surprising situation which push the envelope of emotional capabilities of any child.
“Son of Sophia” is a complexly layered story, delving into not just the growing pains of young Misha, but of the conflicting loyalty that Sofia now has. She’s torn between the love of her son and the needs of her new husband as well as her financial dependency upon him. She is treated as less than a person, demands placed upon her, and commanding her son to do the same. This heartbreaking and internal struggle is beautifully portrayed, demonstrating what many wives and mothers deal with on a daily basis.
“Son of Sofia” develops another story within the film as we see another viewpoint; that of Misha. He longed to be only with his mother and finds Mr. Nikos to be a competitor. It’s a classic representation of a boy with an Oedipus Complex, attempting to do away with his competition. Misha’s new-found friend, Victor (Aremois Havalits) couldn’t be any worse of an influence, but with no parental involvement, Misha delves into inappropriate situations. His ability to understand right from wrong seems to become less clear as do his skills in coping with losing his childhood.
Khomut is the lead actor, supporting the film completely with his nuanced performance. Balancing on the edge of childhood’s imagination and the dark world of adults is intellectually difficult, but Khomut finds a way to do exactly this. Tscheplanowa gives us a beautifully dramatic performance, creating a conflicted and apprehensive character. She brings us a character who is not only real, but believable. The interaction between the two is familiar and relatable while the cinematography gorgeously captures each and every mood and feeling. The story-line does become disturbing, but it is required to do so in order to expertly bring the Oedipal Complex to its bitter-sweet conclusion.
“Son of Sofia” is remarkably haunting and dramatic as it captures the love between a mother and her son and his need to grow up. Its complexities are revealed through deft direction and writing, allowing the cast to shine.