Where does everything go? All the memories, the experiences, the studies, the knowledge, the heartbreak, the happiness, everything that fits inside a lifetime - where does it all go when life ends? That's what's troubling Margherita, the film director at the heart of Nanni Moretti's superb My Mother, as her own life seems to unravel while her mother is in hospital with death on the horizon.
Margherita, wonderfully played by the great Margherita Buy, is starting to shoot a new film whose production is proving more complicated than she anticipated; also, there's a romantic break-up with her current partner who is one of the actors in the film to deal with, plus a temperamental American star (John Turturro) whose demands threaten to derail things even further. In some ways, Margherita is the exact opposite of the lead character in Antonello Grimaldi's Quiet Chaos: in that film (which he also co-wrote), Mr. Moretti played an executive still reeling from his wife's death who retreats into a sort of limbo, a refusal to commit to anything for fear it may disappear. Here, Margherita (who, as a film director, can't help but recall the director himself) throws herself headlong into work and life, juggling everything to see if she can avoid dealing with the obvious until she can't take it anymore.
The film's connection to death creates a peculiar triptych with Quiet Chaos and the majestic The Son's Room (still Mr. Moretti's best film for my money), all of them dealing with the loss of a close family member. But while both those films dealt mostly with the consequences "after the fact", My Mother takes place almost entirely "before the fact", with Margherita and her brother Giovanni (Mr. Moretti) having to come to terms with a death that is announced and predicted. But, while Giovanni is somehow pro-active, the sister is essentially reactive; she is running to stand still, pretending to be in control but knowing full well she can't control what really matters. Hence, what seems at first to be a requiem for Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), a former teacher who still has a twinkle in her eye, also becomes a requiem for a time in Margherita's life that has to be left behind; a quiet admission that you need to start again and leave a heavy load behind. Ada may be the centre of the film, but more because of the way she affects all other characters rather than by her physical presence at its heart.
My Mother hinges on a delicate balance between laughter and tears, comedy and melodrama, that Mr. Moretti has not always been able to pull off at this level. It's a tenderly realised, marvelously detailed carousel of emotions that has no problem about appropriating classic genre tropes when needed only to discard them when they are no longer necessary instead of sticking to them; it's also a return to the director's best form after the less inspired The Caiman and Habemus Papam.
Italy, France, 2015, 107 minutes
Starring Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini
Directed by Mr. Moretti; screenplay by Mr. Moretti, Francesco Piccolo and Valia Santelli, based on a story by Gaia Manzini, Mr. Moretti, Ms. Santelli and Chiara Valerio; cinematography Arnaldo Catinari; production designer Paola Bizzarri; costume designer Valentina Taviani; film editor Clelio Benvenuto; produced by Mr. Moretti and Domenico Procacci, for Sacher Film, Fandango and Rai Cinema in co-production with Le Pacte and ARTE France Cinéma
Screened October 30th, 2015, Medeia Monumental 4, Lisbon