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New Release Review - MIA MADRE

A filmmaker struggles to balance a troubled production with the impending death of her mother.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Nanni Moretti

Starring: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti




"Anyone who has ever experienced the stress of maintaining a full-time job while dealing with personal issues will sympathise with the plight of Mia Madre's protagonist. As with life itself, Mia Madre doesn’t climax with a happy ending, but its final image is one of comfort."




You’re gonna die. Yep, despite all your best efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, despite waiting for the green light before you cross the road, at some point the reaper’s cold fingers will take you by the hand and lead you off to some much debated final destination. Given every one of us will experience it, the subject of death has rarely been broached in cinema. Understandably so, maybe. After all, it’s something we don’t like to be reminded of. Thankfully, Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti likes to face the reaper head on. In 2001 he gave us one of modern cinema’s greatest examinations of mortality in The Son’s Room, the tale of a father, played by Moretti himself, coming to terms with his teenage son’s untimely passing. Now, inspired by the recent passing of his own mother, Moretti proffers a companion piece in the form of Mia Madre, this time a movie about preparing for death, rather than dealing with its legacy.
Moretti once again appears on screen, but in a supporting role. Instead, his surrogate here is actress Margherita Buy, as another Margherita, a director struggling to balance a troublesome film shoot with the impending death of her mother, Ada (Giulia Lazzarini). Her brother, Giovanni (Moretti), has accepted his mother’s fate, but Margherita refuses to, despite being troubled by dreams that suggest otherwise. An unwanted distraction arrives in the form of Barry Huggins (John Turturro), a temperamental American actor who threatens to tear her already crumbling production apart.
Anyone who has ever experienced the stress of maintaining a full-time job while dealing with personal issues will sympathise with the plight of Margherita. On top of everything else, she wakes one night to find her apartment flooded, causing her to understandably break down in frustration. Moving into her hospitalised mother’s vacated apartment, Margherita is interrupted one afternoon by a door to door salesman for an electricity provider. As Margherita pulls her mother’s home apart in search of an electrical bill, the salesman echoes our own discomfort at watching Margherita emotionally uncoil in front of our eyes. It’s moments like this that remind us European filmmakers like Moretti are still in touch with the real world in a way their Hollywood peers no longer seem to be, and it’s why we increasingly turn to world cinema in search of relatable portrayals of humanity.
Moretti has often been compared to Woody Allen, and here he borrows a template from Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, balancing a dramatic subplot with some gut-busting comedy. Turturro’s scenes are hilarious, and his dance scene rivals Oscar Isaac's gyrations in Ex Machina for the year’s most entertaining. The disruptive, egotistical actor might be a cliché, but it’s one Turturro inhabits magnificently. Buy proves a worthy straight-man in a performance consisting almost entirely of reactions, as her Margherita is rarely given a minute to herself – even her sleep is visited by ghosts from her past and future. As she examines her relationships, Margherita comes to realise her self-image is out of whack with the intellectual ice maiden others view her as, and finds herself reborn as her mother’s light fades.
As with life itself, Mia Madre doesn’t climax with a happy ending, but its final image is one of comfort.



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