For all my filmgoing, I’d never seen a film by feted Italian director Nanni Moretti, though this seems like a good one to start with. As far as I can tell, his style is to make personal, often autobiographical films, and Mia madre (“my mother”) is little different, except that the director stand-in is played by Margherita Buy rather than Moretti himself. She’s making a film that reflects a certain crisis in capitalism, as workers protest lay offs by an unfeeling corporate boss (it’s not dissimilar to Godard and Gorin’s Tout va bien in some ways). However, it’s a difficult shoot, not helped by the American actor playing the boss (John Turturro) having a terrible time remembering his lines, and having only a patchy grasp of Italian. But more troubling even than this is that Margherita’s mother is dying. Moretti is still in there as an actor, as Margherita’s brother Giovanni, but the focus remains on Margherita, and Buy does excellent work in finding the right tone, a sort of detached malaise emphasised by the camerawork and aspects of the style that seem to isolate her even amongst other people. For all that’s going wrong, though, it’s not a depressing film exactly. Turturro as the inept actor Barry, who is fond of retailing a fictitious anecdote about working with Kubrick, is a comic highlight, and his energetic mugging contrasts with the scenes of the mother ailing in a hospital.
Director Nanni Moretti; Writers Moretti, Valia Santella and Francesco Piccolo; Cinematographer Arnaldo Catinari; Starring Margherita Buy, Nanni Moretti, John Turturro; Length 107 minutes.
Seen at ICA, London, Tuesday 29 September 2015.