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Cinema || Mia Madre (My Mother)

That meta-films are a specialty of Nanni Moretti has been evident ever since the release of ‘April’ (1998). He followed it up with Il Caimano (2006). Moretti’s latest, the Margherita Buy starrer ‘Mia Madre’ goes further than he has yet travelled into the psyche of the creator as he seamlessly creates a cinematic experience around the ‘serious’ female filmmaker Margherita (Margherita Buy).

Meta-films, by definition, reference the self – a trait not too many filmmakers refrain from exploring in their work. That Moretti stars in his ‘Mia Madre’ alongside the cited protagonist, who is a sibling to his character lets Moretti put himself in a unique cinematic standpoint indeed.

The plot primarily revolves around Margherita, of course, as she battles to complete a film on class struggle, where a distillery company’s workers are fighting tooth and nail with their new ‘American owner’ who must lay off a few workers in order to run the ship as smoothly as he pleases. Margherita is juggling her latest magnum opus with the fact that her unwell mother has been admitted to a hospital, where the doctors promptly declare her to be terminally ill. As Margherita struggles to come to terms with the imminent demise of her supremely erudite mother and the whimsical buffoonery of the American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro), who plays the new American owner of her film’s fictional company, she steadily in introspective dream situations and a mighty spell of creative block that pushes her enough to rethink the choices she has made in her life and the way she interacts with fellow human beings.

Not only is the film a sensitive portrayal of misguided actions and derivative decisions, it is also a deeply symbolical narrative that posits subtle inquiries of the creative process and the very values and events in a person’s life that makes one strive towards a particular artistic goal. It had been a mere habit of Margherita to instruct her actors to let the ‘actor’ in them shine through even while they play a character, entirely defeating the perfect process of inculcation that many auteurs would blindly swear by. And yet her ‘words’ are seldom taken literally as her actors, like the director herself, would usually lose themselves in the shadowy depths of the creative process instead of dealing with the nitty-gritty, that is until Margherita has to contend with the forgetful and abrasive American Barry Huggins.

It is merely Margherita’s own philosophy that shines through her bit of ‘advice’ as she has been the one who is adept at reacting (acting, really) from a sideline, unwilling to internalise her own situation, even as it threatens to ruin her work and tear at the strings of her heart that pines to express itself, especially as the death of her mother inches closer. Her determination to teach her daughter the ‘classical’ yet ‘dead’ language Latin, her inability to accede to the demands of the quirky Huggins and later discovering the child within; her aloof relationships that go undefined and unexplored beyond the carnal basics and pre-constructed break-up lines are mute evidences of Margherita’s denial of herself.

Moretti, interestingly, plays a character who is facing the same core crisis as that of his sister Margherita, but he is merely ‘standing beside the protagonist’ in this case and takes an emotional enough decision at his mother’s hospitalisation which would have far-reaching effects in his life. That the actor is Moretti should shine through, according to his sister, he is convincingly concise while essaying the existentially sound Giovanni, who ends up appearing as a strange foil to Margherita.

A nearly flawless piece of art, ‘Mia Madre’ boasts the thespian bravado of Margherita Buy, whose poignant portrayal of the eponymous Margherita gradually invites the viewers inside her fascinating space that is distinctly being vied for by two different personalities. While one is followed mechanically by her team of supporting creators, the other is heartbreakingly alone in her bid to satisfy Margherita’s idea of herself.

John Turturro as Barry Huggins has essayed the role of a lifetime, imbibing the whimsical American actor to the T, providing the film with a cleverly converse sense of relief that goes on to have a beautifully touching finale of its own.

The faultless editing by Clelio Benevento ensures that Moretti’s latest is a crisp, intellectually stimulating exercise throughout. Mia Madre would certainly be remembered as one of the most profoundly introspective films of Moretti and definitely one of the best Italian films of the decade. []

Film: Mia Madre (My Mother)
Directed by Nanni Moretti

Written by Nanni Moretti, Valia Santella, Francesco Piccolo
Year: 2015
Language: Italian

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015