Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Nanni Moretti's exquisite MIA MADRE: moms and movies like you've rarely seen them

Maybe Nanni Moretti's finest accomplishment to date (he's got so many good movies to his credit), MIA MADRE (My Mother) is a new Italian film about mothers, mothering, movie-making, growing up, and a whole lot more. Were it not so exquisitely conceived and directed (by Moretti, along with four other scribes) as well as acted by a top-notch cast, we might simply be grateful for a good, solid, Italian film about family and filmmaking. But this is something else.

The manner in which Moretti (shown at left and below) ties all his actions and ideas together -- with simplicity and elegance, using past and present, fantasy and dreams to bring on board the character of his film director, Margherita (played by that superb Italian actress Margherita Buy), who is simultaneously trying to make a difficult movie and deal with its incalcitrant lead actor (John Turturro), even as her beloved mother (Giulia Lazzarini) has been diagnosed as terminal and her teenage daughter (lovely newcomer Beatrice Mancini) is failing Latin.

It seems to TrustMovies that Signore Moretti's work is becoming ever more delicate and special, while maintaining its ability to give us superlative performances from its casts, while never losing its own unique grip on reality. It may be Moretti's kind of reality, I'll grant you. But it still seems, in its own generous and quite specific way, very real.

Take the scene early on as Margherita walks to the end of a line of patrons waiting to get into a movie. Early in that line, a friend sees her, leaves the line to come and offer her some good advice. Then, as the line lengthens, she spots a couple having an argument, walks over to them and engages, and we suddenly realize that the woman is the younger version of herself. They speak, connect, and we marvel at the elegance, simplicity and originality of how this "memory/flashback" is brought to life.

The film is full of this sort of thing, and yet so gracefully handled is it all -- past recollection, present situation, the building of character via current actions and re-lived memories -- that what comes from all this is something of a mini-masterpiece: a deeply felt, emotionally resonant tale that avoids sentimentality by creating art.

Performances are in keeping with all else, with Ms Buy (below and elsewhere on this page) offering up another in her roster of memorable characters (Days and Clouds, Le fate ignoranti, A Five-Star Life, and so many more). Turturro (above and further above) pushes his obnoxious character almost to the limit (he's playing an actor, after all), but he, too, never lets reality off the hook. Ms Mancini's daughter (at left, two photos below) is a joy, walking the wire the separates girlhood from adulthood with beauty, delight and sadness, while Ms Lazzarini (shown at left, bottom photo) gives us a mother who clearly was a force to contend with in her day but is now losing her grip.

As sometimes occurs in his films, Moretti does double duty as filmmaker and actor. Here he plays Margherita's helpful and considerate brother, above, who is quietly there for his sister and her family but tries not to push things.

Yes, this is an old, old story -- the loss of a beloved parent, even as one's own life as a breadwinner and a parent, too, must go on. But I wager you will not have seen it spring to life and art as it does in this lovely tale of three generation of Italian women. Among other good ideas that Moretti makes us consider is how family trumps -- yes -- even the movies.

From Music Box Films, Mia Madre (in Italian and some English with English subtitles and running 107 minutes) opened last week in New York, Los Angeles and DC to excellent reviews, and hits many other theaters this Friday, September 2 -- including a few here in South Florida, where it will play Miami at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and Fort Lauderdale at the Classic Gateway Theater. In the weeks to come, it expands further across the country. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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