Film review: Mia Madre
As our parents age impending bereavement from their death inches closer for some of us. Exploring how lives can be dimmed by the stress of this reality, Mia Madre is a gentle drama so melancholy and drawn-out its very air seems to have been sucked away by labour and gloom.
Filming a picture about worker-protests against factory layoffs, director Margherita (Margherita Buy) learns, alongside her brother Giovanni (in a beautifully tempered performance by Nanni Moretti, writer and director of Mia Madre, himself), that their eponymous mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini) is dying.
Giovanni is sad but calm and dedicates his time to caring for Ada; Margherita, on the other hand, exists in denial, teetering on an emotional melt-down, amid strains in her daily life.
Divorced, she has just initiated to break-off a relationship with a devoted lover. That her teenage daughter, Livia (Beatrice Mancini), has apparently been nursing a heartache she until now knew nothing about is weighing on the guilt. And the leading-man, Barry Huggins (John Turturro), she has imported from America for her movie is proving exasperating and never remembers his lines.
Revealing very little about the bond between Ada and Margherita, despite hints of past fractures, this (curious) Cannes-award winner is largely suspected to be autobiographical; for Moretti was making his feature We have a Pope in 2011 when his own mother passed away.
If so, Margherita’s favourite instruction to her actors — “to stand beside your character when playing them” — may not be that bewildering, after all. If each of us consists of an outer-persona (character-role) and an inner (our alter-ego), then Giovanni is really the inside-man of the film-maker who is Moretti acted out by Buy.
If so, it is a delicious conceit.
Only, the 106-minute account alights remorselessly on protracted and iterative narrations about the way Margherita is (not) coping. Visits to the hospital are touching but dull. While dream sequences and recollections and a fascinating scene, in which she appears to come face-to-face with her younger-self, count like the equivalent of stream-of-consciousness in literature, the story feels like a book uninferent of progress.
Even Tuturro, by adding colour and raising tempo in his portrayal of the idiosyncratic star, cannot save the work.
Towards the end, we see how Margherita arrives at a better understanding of her mother, of herself, indeed of their startling contrasts.
“You don’t like anything… that’s the way you live,” says her lover, bitterly. “People can have only small doses of you.”
Well, in Mia Madre, she has been a flame-extinguishing dollop.