If Nanni Moretti’s rhythm has been off of late, you wouldn’t know it here. Competing again for the Palme d’Or, a prize he won back in 2001 for The Son’s Room, there’s a confidence to My Mother that adds an extra level. Very much a game of two halves, Moretti explores loss, neglect and the gap between professional and private lives. It’s a gap he can’t quite bridge within the context of his own story, but he makes a decent fist of it.
Proving once again that there are few things filmmakers like to talk about more than making films, the principal character is Margherita (the commanding Margherita Buy), a successful director who’s focussed on realistic social commentary in her work. The latest tracks the takeover of a factory, and the workers fightback against the fat cat owner. The opening scene comes from the film within the film, the camera rising up above a phalanx of riot police to the protestors about to charge them. When the battering begins, she cuts, unhappy with one camera operator who seems a little too into the brutal violence.
Margherita lives alone now, the death throes of a previous relationship witnessed briefly as she sorts out personal belongings with her ex-partner. She also has a daughter, and more importantly for the story, a dying mother she must juggle alongside the film. Moretti’s screenplay switches between personal and professional lives. She has to find time to care for her mother while still managing a film that stars combustible American star Barry Huggins (John Turturro on brilliant scenery chewing form).
Taken in isolation, both sides of the coin are effective. On set is a blast. Turturro’s blustery prankster can barely remember a line. The camera pauses on his face to great effect as he stares with incomprehension at the prompters all around. In a brilliant comic coup, he first fails to drive a fake car realistically, and then struggles to see past the giant cameras mounted on the vehicle when they make him drive for real. Even Margherita, usually so measured in her personal life, can’t help but blow up in rage at him eventually
Away from the set, she still has moments of indiscretion. When her mother attempts to drive, she rips up her driving licence and smashes the car. For the most part though, Margherita is a frustrated bystander, struggling to let go of a woman who already has one foot in the grave. In the time she spends by a sparse hospital bed, she begins to realise how she’s treated those around her for years. Even her own daughter takes troubles to her grandmother instead.
It’s here Moretti fails to make the next step up. In separating out his film to better reflect the two facets of Margherita’s life, he breaks it in two. The sometimes broad comedy of the film production sits awkwardly alongside intimate family scenes. Occasionally he gets close to finding a solution. Through careful conversation, and a bewildered press conference that starts to resemble 8 ½ minus an under-the-table escape, he demonstrates that the realism she seeks on camera has often been lacking off it. Breezing in and out of her own life as if someone is permanently nearby to shout cut when it gets too much, she’s just as guilty of misunderstanding the world around her as the film audiences she so dearly wants to reach.
This tension is never resolved. My Mother is an interesting and sometimes moving film backed up by a steady central performance and a scene stealing supporting act. It doesn’t quite come together like it should, but even in this disjointed form, Moretti hits most of the key notes.
Director: Nanni Moretti
Stars: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini
Runtime: 106 min
Country: Italy, France