sun 16/06/2024

Mia Madre | reviews, news & interviews

Mia Madre

Mia Madre

Nanni Moretti gets painfully personal with this impeccably judged family drama

Death waits in the wings in 'Mia Madre', starring Nanni Moretti and Margherita Buy

After his pop at Berlusconi, The Caiman, and cheeky peek inside the papal selection process, We Have a Pope, beloved Italian director Nanni Moretti returns to the melancholy territory of his Palme d'Or winner The Son's Room for his sombre, predominantly subtle latest. Inspired by the death of his own mother Agata in 2010, Mia Madre is a pared-down drama, coloured by genuine grief, peppered with and enlivened by moments of farce.

The Son's Room dealt with the raw anguish of the sudden, violent demise of a child that rips through a happy family like a tornado. Mia Madre, on the other hand, is a more steadily sad affair which captures the dull agony associated with the prolonged death of an elderly relative – the matriarch Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), a woman so diminished that her character is most memorably relayed in the recollections of others, and in her apartment's furnishings. The film takes us through the stages of her family's grief – their disbelief, fear and frustration – as they struggle to come to terms with her fate.

Margherita Buy plays Ada's socially conscious film director daughter, also called Margherita, who's shooting a factory-based drama about workers' rights and finds herself butting heads with the preposterous Barry Huggins (John Turturro, pictured below, in full flow), a deluded, forgetful and flamboyant American actor. Moretti – perhaps wisely removing himself from the scrutiny of the central role on this deeply personal project – hovers on the film's sidelines as her brother Giovanni, a quietly devoted type who's a staunch feature at his mother's bedside and who keeps his sister usefully updated.

Adopting a funereal tone from the outset, with the soft tinkle of piano keys accompanying the monochrome credits, Mia Madre has clearly been crafted with a heavy heart. Visually and tonally it's a million miles away from the sun-kissed sightseeing and verbal diarrhoea of Dear Diary, although there are nods to that endearing earlier Moretti feature in the use of Leonard Cohen on the soundtrack and with a scene showing Margherita's petulant daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) learning how to ride a scooter.

As ever, Moretti's characters are curious and searching for answers, as their close proximity to death forces them to re-examine their own lives. Buy convincingly captures a character besieged by drama both at home and professionally, who's growing increasingly exasperated as she finds out that life makes no room for grief, with absurdity no respecter of tragedy. Turturro is a hoot as Barry, who proves to be a headcase of quite some stature. When Margherita collects him from the airport, he falls asleep in the backseat, where he noisily dreams that Kevin Spacey is trying to kill him before awaking to reveal he has no idea who Margherita is during a clumsy attempt at seduction.

Operating with an impeccable sense of restraint (unlike the outrageous Barry Huggins), Moretti has created a work of great sincerity and unshowy insight. The man once thought of as the Italian Woody Allen once again proves he has the chops for emotionally resonant drama.

  • Overleaf: watch the trailer for Mia Madre

Mia Madre has clearly been crafted with a heavy heart


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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