In The Son’s Room, winner of the 2001 Palme d’or in Cannes, Nanni Moretti tackled the difficult subject of a couple mourning their son. In Mia Madre (My Mother), he evokes death once again in this part-satire part-melodrama competing in the Official Selection.
Margherita is a director whose advice to her own making a social drama about factory workers facing layoffs. I’m not even sure she believes in the film herself. She doesn’t even know what the advice she gives her confused actors means: “Play the character, but also stand beside the character.” Perhaps that is exactly what Margherita does. She seems to be outside her body at times, as if observing her own distraught life while her mother is gradually losing hers.
When she’s not on set getting frustrated with every scene, crewmember and actor, especially the American star Barry Huggins (played with gusto by an excellent John Turturro), she’s at her mother’s bedside at the hospital along with her brother Giovanni (played by Moretti). While she prevents herself as best she can from completely unraveling, her recurring nightmares are a surefire sign that she’s headed for a breakdown.
Pretty much like Moretti’s movie. Is Margherita’s failure to make a decent movie or direct her actors a reflection of Moretti’s subconscious? And I can’t help but wonder whether Moretti is taking sly digs at the movie industry and the stereotype of the American movie star. Turturro’s character is however refreshing and as brash as he may seem, he brings some character to the film.
Moretti has constructed the comedy to lighten the mood. The melodrama involving the “madre” is often heavy, mostly due to Margherita’s self-absorbed character whose incapacity to deal with her emotions in both her personal and professional lives is frustrating to watch. Moretti veers away into subplots, planting an idea without developing it further, making it a misconstructed work that is at times incoherent.
Barry is a capricious actor incapable of remembering his lines, making up stories about Kubrick writing three films especially tailored for him, and at one point says what we’re all thinking about — that Margherita’s movie is the worst movie he’s been in. Like Turturro in Moretti’s film?