Mia Madre is about a filmmaker (Margherita Buy) shooting a film while her world falls down around her. The French-Italian production comes courtesy of Nanni Moretti, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2001 for the intensely affecting The Son’s Room. This is a lighter work, not least because it features a comedic treat of a supporting performance from John Turturro, playing a caricature of himself as a spoilt Hollywood star.
The anxious and bad-tempered Margherita is divorced and in the midst of breaking up with her actor boyfriend. Her teenage daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) is causing headaches, while most disturbingly of all, her elderly mother Ada (Guilia Lazzarini) is dying in hospital, and Margherita’s brother Giovanni (Moretti himself) has given up his own job to look after her. Cue themes of sadness, loss, guilt and sacrifice.
Buy and Moretti gel well as the troubled siblings. If he seems a little subdued, it’s perhaps because he has chosen to play down his part in order to let his lead actress dominate. And dominate she does, essaying a marvellous creation, Margherita staying human and sympathetic despite her insensitivity, sense of entitlement and denial of reality.
Meanwhile, Moretti’s casting of a woman as his alter-ego in what is undoubtedly an autobiographical tale for Mia Madre’s director and co-writer (the filmmaker lost his own mother during the making of 2011’s We Have a Pope) is a welcome nod to gender politics in cinema.