Mia Madre

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MIA MADRE, com­edy/drama, rated PG, in Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles Life and art col­lide in this touch­ing, funny, dy­nam­i­cally com­plex film from di­rec­tor Nanni Moretti (We Have a Pope). His pro­tag­o­nist is Margherita (Margherita Buy), a film­maker di­rect­ing a movie about la­bor strife in an Ital­ian fac­tory. We open on a street demon­stra­tion, with strik­ers march­ing and cops wield­ing trun­cheons and fire hoses. Then Margherita shouts “Cut!” and we’re at a film shoot, with stars and ex­tras and grips and all the con­flicts and the avalanche of de­tails that plague a di­rec­tor’s world.

And that’s not all she has on her plate. Her mother, Ada (Gi­u­lia Laz­zarini), is in the hos­pi­tal with heart prob­lems and a bleak prog­no­sis. Margherita rushes nightly from the set to the ward, where her brother Gio­vanni (Moretti) has qui­etly taken charge. She’s also in the process of break­ing up with a boyfriend — Vittorio (En­rico Ian­niello), one of the lead ac­tors of her movie. Oh, and her star, the Amer­i­can ac­tor Barry Hug­gins (John Tur­turro) is fly­ing in from Hol­ly­wood, and he turns out to be a king-sized headache, blow­ing lines, hit­ting on Margherita, and brag­ging about his close­ness with Stan­ley Kubrick, who once fired him. Tur­turro is hi­lar­i­ously ex­u­ber­ant, but one of the film’s mi­nor flaws is that we never quite un­der­stand what made Margherita want him in the first place.

It’s enough to drive a per­son around the bend, and Margherita seems to be los­ing her grip as prob­lems es­ca­late. She starts hav­ing flash­backs and night­mares, sleep­ing and wak­ing, in scenes that Moretti in­te­grates into the ac­tion so neatly that it’s not al­ways ev­i­dent which side of re­al­ity we are on. Loss of con­trol can be se­ri­ous busi­ness for a con­trol freak, and Margherita is forced to con­front un­pleas­ant truths about her­self, truths that she’s been able to ward off in the past. “It’s the way I work,” she says de­fen­sively to Vittorio, the ac­tor she’s just thrown over. “No,” he says, “it’s the way you live.” When she asks Gio­vanni why no­body has ever told her this stuff be­fore, his shrug is elo­quent. Buy han­dles it all beau­ti­fully, with sad eyes and an in­ner strength that keeps her from go­ing over the edge.

There’s a lot about struc­ture, some of it wrapped up in the Latin course with which Margherita’s teenage daugh­ter is strug­gling. Margherita in­sists that Latin is im­por­tant, but when pressed, she can’t think why. And there’s a bit of di­rec­tion she al­ways gives ac­tors — “Play the char­ac­ter, but stand next to the char­ac­ter” — that no­body un­der­stands. Fi­nally Margherita ad­mits that she doesn’t, ei­ther.

Moretti has made an in­trigu­ingly wry and per­sonal film about the in­te­gra­tion of life and work, love and loss, laugh­ter and tears. And in a scene where Hug­gins comes over for din­ner, Moretti as Gio­vanni gives him a heart­felt piece of ad­vice: “Never con­tra­dict the di­rec­tor.” — Jonathan Richards

Cin­ema pur­ga­to­rio: Margherita Buy and John Tur­turro

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