It is always sad and painful to see your loved one going away from you forever, and Nanni Moretti’s new film “My Mother” calmly and sensitively depicts the emotional matters its heroine and her family members have to deal with after they hear the bad news about their loved one. Warm and humorous with its small, thoughtful touches, this delicate family drama subtly flows with their emotional undercurrents as their daily life goes on with that bad news hovering over them, and it eventually builds up to quiet but powerful moments as they must face the inevitability of their circumstance.
When we meet Margherita (Margherita Buy) at the beginning, she is busy with the shooting of her latest film. As a prominent movie director in Italy, she has been known well for her several serious works on social subjects, and the opening scene shows her and her actors and crew members trying to shot a riot scene in the absence of their American lead actor. During the shooting of a big scene like that, not many things go exactly as she wants, and she naturally becomes frustrated about the complications she has to confront on the set.
Meanwhile, she and her brother Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) are told that their mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarin), who has recently been hospitalized due to her pneumonia, does not have many days to live because of her weakening heart and lungs. As trying to deal with this sad news, Margherita begins to spend more time with her mother, but she is also reminded of how short the precious time with her mother will be.
Reflecting the emotional turmoil growing inside Margherita, the movie frequently slips into the dream and flashback scenes without any visible shift in its understated tone. This approach is a bit confusing at first, but it gradually works as Margherita’s troubled mind comes to reflect more on her life and her work and, above all, her relationship with her mother. She begins to feel that she has not been that close to her mother, and there is a hurtful flashback scene showing one moment in their past when she was a little too harsh to her mother, who simply wanted to feel that she was still all right for driving despite her age.
The movie pays considerable attention to the other characters affected by Ada’s impending death. Giovanni, a caring son who worries about his mother as much as his sister, comes to feel no desire to go back to his job as devoting himself to his mother’s welfare, and he later quits his job even though his generous boss has no problem with Giovanni’s extending vacation. Livia (Beatrice Mancini), Margherita’s teenager daughter from her previous marriage, senses that her grandmother is less healthy than before although her mother did not tell her anything in details, and she comes to get an opportunity to spend more time with her grandmother as Ada gladly helps her granddaughter’s Latin study,
Margherita continues to focus on her work as before, but it is not easy for her to put aside her personal matters. In addition, she has to deal with her American lead actor who has finally arrived but causes more headaches for her and others on the set. Barry Huggins, drolly played by John Turturro with gusto and bravado, is certainly a good actor in case of the promotion of her film inside and outside Italy, but he is not so good at delivering Italian dialogues or following his director’s instructions. In one hilarious scene, he is supposed to deliver only a few lines but fails during every take mainly due to his incorrect pronunciation, and that surely exacerbates Margherita as she runs out of her patience.
And her mother’s condition keeps being deteriorated over the slow but unstoppable passage of time. Getting more extensive care and treatment, Ada begins to show the symptoms of being faded away from herself as well as her family, and then there comes the point where Margherita and others really have nothing to do for her mother except delaying the irreversible deterioration of her failing body as long as possible.
Like his previous work “The Son’s Room” (2001), “My Mother”, which received Prize of the Ecumenical Jury award at the Cannes Film Festival in this year, was inspired by the director/co-writer Nanni Moretti’s personal experience. While he got an idea for the former when his son was about to be born, the idea for the latter came to him not long after his mother, who was also a scholar of Latin and Greek literature like Ada, passed away. Although he chose to tell the story through a female character, you may sense the personal aspects through his sincere and honest attitude in the film.
Thanks to his unadorned direction and the believable performances from his good actors, the movie lets its story and characters grounded in lots of intimacy and humanity, and they come to us as real people to empathize with. The conversation scenes between Margherita and Ava feel warm and tender while never resorting to cheap sentimentality, and it is poignant to see how Margherita becomes slowly closer to her daughter through her mother’s indirect help. Even Barry Huggins is allowed to show his better sides behind his vain, buffoonish appearance (did he really get a call from Stanley Kubrick?), and we cannot help but smile as watching him promptly energizing the mood for the people on the set during one pleasant scene. He may be a jerk, but he is a likable and entertaining one at least.
“My Mother” is a deeply moving film, and it effortlessly moves around humor and sadness before arriving at its short but emotionally resonating final scene, whose simple last line leaves us a small but profound note of hope and optimism. Death is a sad, unavoidable fact of our life indeed, but we can move on anyway – as waiting for our turn to come, of course.