In Mia Madre, director Nanni Moretti makes a seemingly autobiographical film influenced by the recent passing of his mother. The film follows Margherita (played by veteran Italian actress Margherita Buy), a renowned filmmaker during the filming of her latest movie, as she slowly becomes aware of her mother Ada's impending death. Mia Madre tries to create poignant moments of the human experience when it comes to grief, acceptance, and connecting to the larger reality of one's life, but unfortunately most of what is on display left me unresponsive. Margherita is in the throws of her latest film about working class people fighting for their jobs after a new owner enters the picture. While surrounded by a well-intentioned but sometimes comically incompetent crew while on set, she and her brother Giovanni (played by Moretti) are grappling with their mother's failing health. Work becomes a distraction, allowing her to embody the nonsensical advice she gives to all of her actors, "Play the character, and stand next to the character." She is accused by her ex-lover of not engaging with those in her life fully, of not listening, and in many ways Buy plays Margherita as a woman thrifty with her feelings which makes even her emotional breakdowns hard to connect with.
Perhaps it's time to mention that John Tuturro is in this film, playing American actor Barry Huggins. He is the aforementioned new factory owner in Margherita's film and an all around charismatic piece of work. To be fair, as out of place as Tuturro feels in this movie, he does have some wonderful scenes with Buy including one that involves an obscenity laced outburst about the quality of the script, film, and Margherita's direction. It's comedy relief that I would have enjoyed more had I been more moved by other aspects of the film.
Mia Madre comes close to tying all of it's ideas together in a resonant way but the execution is somewhat lacking. There are many distracting additions of Margherita's night terrors, or flashbacks that for me confused the action of the plot already in motion. We know that Ada is a person of importance, that Margherita's grief is getting in the way of her understanding a reality without her mother. Her film is said to be reminiscent of modern Italy and she is asked by the press if she is trying to capture the present moment in the country. Her reply is formulary, but as she speaks her eyes betray an inability to understand any of her reality anymore. Her mother is dying, a woman who is a constant is now unreliable. Margherita can no longer stand next to her comfortable reality, she has to become apart of it, grief and all. Sadly, the significance of this moment doesn't hit home until former students of Ada come to call and share the impact that a woman, fully engaged, had on their lives.
Like Margherita, I was standing very much next to Mia Madre. I appreciate the personal strokes Moretti puts into this film, and there is something to the message that runs throughout, I only wish it hit me a little stronger.
Mia Madre opens today at the Ritz Bourse.