Mia Madre

MIA MADRE. Starring: Margherita Buy, Giuliani Lazzarini, John Turturro, and Nanni

Moretti. Directed by Nanni Moretti. Rated M (Coarse language). 107 min.

This Italian, sub-titled movie tells the story of a middle-aged woman Director who is filming a socially-relevant drama, while coping with personal crises in her private life. Her mother is dying in hospital, she and her partner have split up, and she is struggling to reconnect with her daughter.

The film won Best Actress for Margherita Buy and Best Supporting Actress for Giulia Lazzarini, in Italy in 2015, and won the Ecumenical Jury Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

This a delicately observed movie that strikes a wonderful balance between film as Art, and the depiction of actual life. Margherita (Margherita Buy) tells the actors in her movies constantly to step outside their character to play their role better, but has trouble herself knowing what that advice means, or how to cope realistically with life around herself. Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), her mother, is breaking down. Her heart is failing, she is experiencing the onset of dementia, and her body is slowly being starved of oxygen. Together with her brother, Giovanni (Nanni Moretti, who is also the Director of this movie), Margherita and Giovanni see no resolution to their mother's decline. Moretti's own mother was actually dying during the making of his previous movie, "We have a Pope" (2011), and personal loss lies at this film's emotional core.

At at abstract level, the film offers a fascinating exploration of the differences between what Art is, and what is real. At a more concrete and personal level, the film gives an extraordinary naturalistic portrayal of human emotions surrounding the impending death of a mother. Giula Lazzarini gives a stunning performance as a dignified and proud woman, who hangs onto life, family, and her memories of them, while her life simply ebbs away.

Despite the sadness of Ada's inevitable death, the movie is a positive affirmation of the joy of living and loving. Margherite tells her mother that the film she is making (about factory workers on strike) is "full of energy and hope". That is not the case. But this film is about the reality of positive living and loving, and Moretti constantly intrudes their meaning into his assertions about what is most important in life. As to the art of film acting, this film asks: "Do film actors hide behind what they are creating, forge another identity, or hold on to what makes them the persons they really are?". There are no easy answers to these questions, but Moretti makes us think much more about them.

On set, Margherite has to deal with a famous egotistical actor, Barry Huggins (John Turturro) who forgets his lines and can't control his behaviour. Her forceful, firm authority as a film Director, trying desperately to cope with him, is contrasted starkly with her helplessness in being able to relate personally and intimately to her mother. The scene where Margherite yells at her mother in frustration for not being able to walk three steps to the bathroom, is agonisingly real.

Both editing and scripting are excellent. Fantasy sequences from the past and the wished-for-present are integrated into the film in a particularly clever fashion, and many scenes are scripted with engaging wit and humour. One scene that stands out is Margherite meeting her mother as a young woman in an endless queue lining up to see one of her movies. This movie is one that deals with sad events, but it is never morbid in its telling, and it makes sure that human resourcefulness and vulnerability walk hand in hand together.

The movie works well at multiple levels. It doesn't have the dramatic intensity of Michael Haneke's "Amour" (2012), but in a subtle, nuanced way, it plays effectively with the complexity of human emotions, and it meditates thoughtfully on impending loss. This is an intimate movie, directed delicately by Nanni Moretti, that deals beguilingly with the "lessons of life".

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Palace Films

Released May 5th., 2016

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