Cinema of life
Actor/filmmaker Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room, We Have a Pope) makes his new film a kind of split-level drama about creativity and mortality. Mia Madre is well-acted and richly observed, a multigenerational slice of life that brings patience and low-key compassion to the tangled emotions and personal uncertainties of its main characters.
The central character is Margherita (Margherita Buy), a filmmaker who’s caught in two concurrent crises: one personal (her mother, the title character played by Giulia Lazzarini, is hospitalized and may be in her last days) and the other professional (her new film, which features a problematical American actor, isn’t working out as she had hoped). Moretti himself plays her serious-minded brother, who’s spending most of his time attending to their mother’s care while also undergoing a professional crisis of his own.
Margherita’s bright, troubled teenage daughter, Livia (Beatrice Mancini), has a bond with her grandmother that eventually will yield rewards across three generations of the family. Along the way, the erratic American actor, Barry Huggins (a manic John Turturro), imposes himself on these matters with his own tragicomical mix of personal and professional crisis.
Moretti uses dreamlike stylized flashbacks to throw a provocative half-light on Margherita’s past, including her youth and love affairs. Some of the film’s best moments pay homage to Federico Fellini, and to the old master’s best film, 8-1/2, which is itself about a director trying to make a film amid a multitude of personal problems. Mia Madre isn’t much concerned with matching Fellini’s grand gestures, but it does offer some pungent comedy on what goes on behind the camera during the making of a film, and there’s a quirky kind of poetry in this tale’s half-solved mysteries.