The Austin Chronicle

Mia Madre

Rated R, 106 min. Directed by Nanni Moretti. Starring Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianniello.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 9, 2016

A movie shoot is in crisis. The star is difficult. The director is distracted: by family responsibilities, an old lover, and whether this movie – really, a whole life’s work – even matters. In the middle of a press conference, hounded by journalists, the director whispers a plea, or a prayer: “Mama, help me.”

Nope, it’s not 1963 again. But Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre does have the same bones, if a different skin, as countryman Federico Fellini’s , still the point of comparison (and Mount Olympus) for movies about moviemaking. Here, the chaos and pageantry of Fellini is shaved down to spareness, Guido is a girl, and it’s not really about moviemaking, but the terrible and protracted diminishment of an aging parent.

Mia Madre’s Margherita (Buy) makes socially responsible films; her latest is about factory workers on strike. She has little patience for her lead, a mercurial American actor named Barry (Turturro), forever flubbing his Italian-language lines, and the unruly production is getting away from her. In an exquisite brief by Moretti, he tracks Margherita pacing a location, and the six crew members trailing her, worker ants trying to anticipate their queen’s needs. But they can’t fix the biggest thing bothering Margherita, which is that her mother (Lazzarini), a former Latin professor, is winding down.

Drawing inspiration from the death of his own mother, Moretti (Caro Diaro, The Son’s Room) and his co-authors relay the bedside stress and sadness of attending a loved one at her end of life. (As with , stress is manifest in a suppleness that shifts between real life, dream life, and memory.) Mia Madre is effective in dramatizing the familiar paces adult children go through tending to their parents: the hospital indignities, confused consults with doctors, and helplessness at encroaching dementia. “Effective” can be interesting and worthy. It’s also the kind of word you’d use to describe a prescription drug. For truly affecting, there is Margherita’s teen daughter, Livia (Mancini). I don’t know if Moretti cares about catharsis, but Livia’s silent sob broke me, in the best way.

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