Following her divorce, Margherita (Margherita Buy) is directing a dramatic, socially relevant feature film starring troublesome US actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro), while keeping a loving eye on her hospitalized, increasingly ailing mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), with support from her brother Giovanni (Nanni Moretti).
Review by Louise Keller:
An exploration of loss, Mia Madre canvasses the internal journey of a woman whose ability to manage her life wavers as her pillar of strength - her mother - reaches the end of her life. There is a wave of sadness that engulfs Nanni Moretti's film and some moments resonate, although his Palme d'Or winner The Son's Room in 2001 was far more affecting. With an outstanding central performance by Margherita Buy as a film director who knows what she wants professionally but not personally, the film navigates the circumference of her life both real and imaginary.
In the opening sequence, Margherita (Buy) is directing a rousing scene in which factory workers protest their right to work in a confrontation with police. She is never happy with the outcome, wondering aloud (in this and later scenes) whether the action or the actors look fake. Nightmares, journeys into the past and imagined situations all contribute to her angst.
From the outset, Margherita clearly has much on her mind. Her mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini) is in hospital, weak and undergoing tests and treatment; her relationships are struggling. She does not know what to say to her mother; her love life with one of her actors Vittorio (Enrico Ianniello) is over; her communication lines with her student daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) are weak. Margherita's bond with her brother Giovani (Moretti) is the only stability in her life; the early hospital scenes when they discuss their mother's predicament offer moments of tenderness. Moretti is effective in this support role, delivering an unselfconscious turn as a man who understands completely what is his purpose at this moment. Margherita's unwillingness to accept her mother's decline is countered by the pragmatism of her calm sibling, who tells her to 'break one of your patterns'.
The arrival of the film's temperamental, arrogant star Barry Huggins (Turturro) who constantly forgets his lines is the final straw for Marghuerita, who is undone by all the little things that niggle at her. Turturro's larger than life performance is as irritating as Moretti no doubt intends.
Ironically, it is the unravelling of Marghuerita, daughter, wife, mother and director that is more effective than our connection with the relationship between Margherita and her mother. Perhaps that is the reason why we do not care as much as we should for that special bond between daughter and mother; as a result the film lacks the emotional power we crave.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With his likeable screen presence and evident filmmaking talents, Nanni Moretti has developed a following among those who do not insist that all films should be hugely entertaining with happy endings. Moretti deals in death, if I can put it that way, but in the cinematic context to which Peter Weir refers when he says all films are about death. Even if that is somewhat of an overstatement, it has much truth in it. Moretti is drawn to themes of loss and grief (eg his 2001 Palme d'Or winning The Son's Room)
This semi autobiographical essay on the death of a mother as experienced by her son, Giovanni (Moretti) and daughter Margherita (Margherita Buy) explores the effects the impending death has on the siblings. One, Margherita, is busy shooting a demanding film; the other, Giovanni, is taking months off work to take a breather. Their differences are also evident in their responses: she is borderline hysterical, he is calm and reflective. But both are deeply impacted by the pending passing of their beloved and wise mum.
All three central characters are portrayed with passion and authenticity, although I find Margherita's hyper-emotive nature a tad overdone, as if the character lacked worldly balance, especially in her work.
Perhaps unavoidably in the circumstances - a filmmaker writing autobiographically - the elements of the film devoted to shooting the film within the film are allowed to swamp the essence of the emotional story. Given that we are totally uninvested in the film being made (partly because it is so sketchily suggested), the long sequences on the set are a bore. And that's even so when imported star Barry Huggins (who despite his name is of Italian descent and speaks Italian) throws a tantrum or two. Turturro is effectively unlikeable as Huggins.
The intercutting of scenes shooting the film with past and present scenes with the dying mother, and the tattered relationship between Margherita and her ex, are meant to add texture, but they simply serve to dilute dramatic tension and interfere with our involvement.
I find nothing special in this story of siblings about to lose their mother, nothing that shows an observation unfamiliar to us in general. That makes it seem self indulgent, and I don't mean to be harsh.
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MIA MADRE (M)
CAST: Marghherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianiello, Anna Bellato
PRODUCER: Nanni Moretti, Domenico Procacci
DIRECTOR: Nanni Moretti
SCRIPT: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Valia Santella
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Arnaldo Catinari
EDITOR: Clelio Benevento
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paola Bizzarri
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2016