Had I not loved my mother profoundly and had she not died 13 years ago (seems like forever, seems like yesterday), I would still have been mesmerized and moved by Italian auteur Nanni Moretti’s beautiful film “Mia Madre.”
Margherita (Margherita Buy, wonderful), a complicated middle-aged film director is struggling, moving between creating the reality of her latest film, a political story about striking factory workers, and her real life, which seems like a dream, dominated by the serious illness of her beloved mother (Giulia Lazzarini), a scholar and professor, who is hospitalized.
The production is troubled. Margherita’s star, Barry Huggins (a very funny John Turturro) is American, self-absorbed and obnoxious, unable to remember his lines or adjust to his fake mustache. Her actors look at her quizzically when she offers a favorite bit of direction about both playing the character and standing next to the character. Her crew members are pushy and have too many opinions.
Filmmaking hours, long and irregular, prevent Margherita from spending enough time visiting and attending to her mother and meeting with the doctors. Her brother Giovanni (Moretti) who has recently taken a leave of absence from a job he won’t resume, devotes himself to their mother but doesn’t judge Margherita, understanding she’s conflicted. And he understands the prickly areas of her personality.
While Margherita is always surrounded by people, personally and professionally, she seems very alone. She has recently left her boyfriend, an actor with a part in her film, whom she mistreated, and a gap has opened between her and her teenage daughter Livia.
The narrative occurs on several levels–Margherita’s reality, dreams, thoughts and memories–and it’s very effective when they’re initially indistinguishable, and when they seem to blend.
The all-consuming upheaval caused by the major trauma of a dying parent is expressed by Margherita and Giovanni using an identical sentence: “I don’t understand anything anymore.” She thinks it during a press conference for her new film as she’s offering her well-practiced statements about her work, which suddenly seems meaningless. He says it to her, as they sit together outside the hospital, trying to accept what seems unreal (and unbearable)–that their mother has very little time left.
The morning after their mother has died, a former student passing through Rome visits at her apartment. He’s shocked and saddened and tells Margherita and Giovanni how important Ada had been in his life. It’s the first time we hear her name–she’s always been “mamma”–and get a glimpse of the woman beyond the loving and beloved mother who had a reality larger than her children knew.
“Mia Madre” will open on Friday, August 26 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center, in Washington, D.C. at the Avalon, and in Los Angeles at three Laemmle Theatres. A nationwide rollout will follow.