Director Nanni Moretti (winner of the Palme d’Or for The Sons Room in 2001) returns to the domestic and understated for Mia Madre.
Margherita Buy plays Margherita, a director shooting her next film about workers protest, whilst simultaneously dealing with her teenage daughter and the declining health of her mother.
The film may be light on plot but its emotions run deep. The scenes between Margherita and her mother (played by Giulia Lazzarini) are beautiful and highlight the true sadness of the inevitable role death plays in all our lives.
During the day Margherita has to deal with a needy actor, Barry Higgins, played brilliantly by John Turturro. This provides a reversal of perhaps the traditional gender stereotyping (a male director dealing with a diva actress) and makes the film all the more interesting.
This film is not interested in making a grand statement about gender issues in the industry. As such, we see the issues faced by a director and not a “female director”.
Barry consistently forgets his lines and churns out some questionable performances, much to the frustration of Margherita, and to top that off he arrogantly boasts of his time working with Stanley (Kubrick – which never happened). As the audience we see a glimpse of behind the scenes life on a film set, where the director perhaps has to bend to the will of production pressures to secure a “star” actor in order to ensure the success of the film.
The heart of the story, however, is Margherita’s mother and her inevitable demise. Margherita’s guilt is compounded by the fact her brother has taken time out from work in order to help his mother during this time.
Although emotionally wrought, the film is brilliantly understated and moving. In one moment when Margherita is being forced to leave her mother’s side as ‘visiting hours are over’, her mother turns to her to say that the best cure is having her daughter by her side and not the medicine they’re pumping through her body. This very quiet and truthful moment for me captures the feeling of the film.
Mia Madre is a smart, subtle and unassuming film, which has an emotional heart that will stay with you.
Mia Madre is out in cinemas now.
Niki Alexandrou @nikialexandrou