Mia madre

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

A true gem of filmmaking, My Mother shows a profoundly touching study of love and loss

Back in 2001, Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti released La stanza del figlio / The Son’s Room, the devastating story of a psychoanalyst and his family undergoing deep emotional trauma as a result of their teenage son dying in a scuba diving accident. It deservedly won the Palme d’or at Cannes and it surely is one of the best films of Morettti’s career.

Now, 14 years later, his new film Mia madre (My Mother), also a deep study of grief and loss, proves to be another most accomplished feature, as good as La stanza del figlio. It is one of those films that can restore your faith in contemporary cinema, which more often than not is flooded by formulaic features with neither much insight nor enough aesthetic merits.

Mia madre tells the story of Margherita (Margherita Buy) a female director facing several crises at once: Barry Huggins (John Turturro), the American lead actor of the film she’s making, is friendly and cares about the project, yet he keeps forgetting his lines and can’t stop talking about the time he worked for Stanley Kubrick (which, by the way, doesn’t seem to be true). Let alone the episodes where he loses his temper and threatens to abandon the film despite how important it is for him.

Then there are the usual problems parents have when raising teenage children, in this case a girl who would rather avoid talking to her mother about the issues that ail her — among them having fallen in love with a classmate who doesn’t love her back. But what matters the most, what is at the core of Margherita’s tribulations, is the forthcoming death of her mother, an old woman facing very difficult health problems.

At first, Margherita chooses to ignore the harsh reality, hoping that her mother would leave the hospital to come back home. But as the events unfold, her brother Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) makes sure she understands the full panorama and does his best to make it easier and as painless as possible for everybody, including the daughter who’s terribly sad about her grandmother’s condition.

Unlike so many other films dealing with the loss of a loved one, and just like La stanza del figlio, Mia madre doesn’t go for shock value or melodrama. On the contrary: it downplays the drama and delicately examines it in all its complexity. Which is not to say it’s not an emotional feature, but one where sentiments and feelings are elicited in a reflexive manner with no blows below the belt. It’s very, very hard to convey the many stages people go through when death surrounds them, but Moretti has a restrained sensibility that makes everything feel authentic and familiar.

With a balanced mix of sadness and pain, but also with some detachment when necessary, Mia madre asks viewers to accompany the characters on their path rather than merely bear witness to their drama. Likewise, with commendable simplicity, the depiction of the events results in a strong emotional impact and assured audience involvement. In addition, all the performances deliver beautifully nuanced characters. As an example, in the hands of less talented filmmakers, the US actor played by Turturro might have been a boring stereotype. But here, he is an off-beat individual with a singular personality that often gives way for comic relief.

There are some particular scenes — such as the one where Margherita almost breaks and starts confessing her pains to Barry in the middle of the shoot — that may be a bit self-explanatory and yet they are likely to still move you to tears. There’s something marvellously elusive about how Moretti can tackle a large part of what happens and how it happens when you are about to lose someone you love.

Production notes
Mia madre (Italy, France, Germany, 2015). Directed by Nanni Moretti. Written by Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Valia Santella. With Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianniello, Anna Bellato. Cinematography: Arnaldo Catinari. Editing: Clelio Benevento. Running time: 102 minutes.