Italian director Nanni Moretti is often dubbed the “Italian Woody Allen” because of his tendency to write, direct and star in his own films, and for their milieu of analysts, writers and film makers humorously tortured by the artistic process.
However since his 2001 Palme d’Or winner The Son’s Room (still one of the finest weepies ever), he has found a pace and warmth all of his own. Mia Madre **** is perhaps his most personal work since then – following comic satires on politics and religion – and the return is most welcome.
Moretti features only on the periphery as an actor here, playing the brother of a famous female film director Margherita (the wonderful actress Marghertia Buy, an Italian mix of Jane Fonda, Meg Ryan and Annette Bening). She is shooting a big film about a factory strike while the siblings’ elderly mother is hospitalised.
Margherita’s life is complicated by the arrival of her big American star Barry Huggins, played with great relish and an itchy moustache by John Turturro, as a huge ego and massive pain in the arse. But, he’s very funny and his ego-centricity throws clever comic light on the real pain of losing one’s mother, slowly.
Moretti handles all the levels and tones very deftly to create a delightful, tenderly emotional study of modern life, filled with common refrains from his previous work – singing in cars, sitting on park benches, the lunacy of film making. “I want the actor to stand next to the character,” Margherita instructs on set, late admitting she never quite knows what she really means. It’s a perfect description of Moretti’s work, which feels so personal and autobiographical yet always keeps its feet in the comforting realm of fiction. A bit like Woody Allen, I suppose.
It was intriguing to read in the press notes, later, after writing this review, that in preparing for this beautiful little film, Moretti reveals he re-watched Woody Allen’s Another Woman. Well, you can’t go wrong with that.