My Mother


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Tragicomedy My Mother (Mia Madre).
"Nobody sneaks up on you, light-footed, perplexing, hilarious, quite the way Nanni Moretti does with his scenes."

"Work for all," the striking employees of a factory chant during the demonstration that starts the film. It turns out to be the film within the film, directed by Margherita (Margherita Buy) who at that point in time is worried about Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), her mother in the hospital. Mia Madre coolheadedly spirals into and out of dream sequences and scenes from the movie being shot as Nanni Moretti boldly uses the unconscious to link meaning. Often we do not know right away what is what.

Moretti cast himself as Margherita's brother Giovanni. His mindfulness evokes admiration. Homemade pasta and other delicacies are brought by him to the hospital bed, which makes Margherita hide her store-bought goodies. This is a lovely and very rare competition to see in a movie - two siblings who actually both care.

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Things turn from complicated to ridiculous with the arrival of American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro). "I'll kill you," is one of the first sentences we hear him mutter, three-quarters asleep on the backseat of Margherita's car after she picks him up at the airport herself. He almost fulfills this promise although he jokes it was all a dream about Kevin Spacey trying to kill him first. Everything Barry does is an affectation.

Turturro epitomises the concept of the unbearable actor. Creepy as hell and needy, he mimics phone calls from Stanley Kubrick, speaks of himself in the third person, as in "Barry needs real champagne for the scene," and grandiosely over-estimates his own skills in learning lines in Italian. This entertainment monster is let loose on Margherita's frail psyche and out of the dilemma, Moretti fabricates something much larger and almost miraculous about contemporary discontent.

An enormous line in front of a cinema showing what at least from the poster looks like Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire, curls through the nightly streets of Rome. Margherita encounters everyone in that queue, including her younger self. Speaking of lines, Margherita has a favourite for directing her cast. "I want the actress next to the person," she demands. It turns out to be like a line repeated so often, that meaning is lost. She struggles getting her film made when all she can think about is her very sick mother.

The simplicity of what is being desired, and the impossibility of getting there, prove to be remarkably strong for everybody involved. "Can't you get real faces?" Margherita's longing manifests itself in the eyebrows or lips of her film's extras and in the way she deals with her ex-boyfriend, Vittorio (Enrico Ianniello). Vittorio feels he has to protect himself. "How silly," she says, cutting through his platitude that might very well have a valid core.

In perfect harmony, the dying mother, who used to be a teacher of Latin - beloved by her students, the bastion of logic and structure, holding the key to understanding language - combines the imaginary and the symbolic. Of course, this brings about an existential crisis and feels like the crashing of a car against the wall. Livia (Beatrice Mancini), Margherita's teenage daughter, though heartbroken herself about her beloved grandmother's impending death, is a pillar of strength. Margherita's blessings to have a brother and mother and daughter like these are not taken for granted. They are a rare gift and accomplishment and she knows that.

Nobody sneaks up on you, light-footed, perplexing, hilarious, quite the way Nanni Moretti does with his scenes. Turturro, for example, has an extensive, seemingly impromptu dance number on the set with a woman from the crew. He wears a red sweater without a collar or shirt underneath, as if he were channeling Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. Pity and disgust, admiration and embarrassment engulf the spectators in this most unexpectedly predictable dance of the death of dignity. Barry, who insists he understands everything perfectly, has by his side a very conscientious interpreter (Lorenzo Gioielli), intent on clearing up all possible misunderstandings. He clarifies that Barry said, "not only the dialogue, the whole film is shit."

Mia Madre is a film about work. Work when it becomes achingly hollow because a loved one is dying and work when it gives structure and meaning to life. The mourners act toward tomorrow, the only way possible - by facing today. Sometimes that means leading two lives, one about what is really on your mind, the other keeping up the appearance of what you are doing. In the case of Moretti's Giovanni, it means the end of one to be able to do the other.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2015
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Tragicomedy, a filmmaker tries to cope with crises.
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Richard Mowe ***

Director: Nanni Moretti

Writer: Gaia Manzini, Chiara Valerio

Starring: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini

Year: 2015

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Italy, France

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