Cannes Review – My Mother (Mia Madre)

Margherita (Margherita Buy), a movie director, is trying to juggle work and her mother being bed bound in hospital. She is just about managing to cope when the star of her movie Barry Huggins (John Turturro) arrives on set, and her ordered world comes crashing down.

It is clear that former Cannes Jury President Nanni Moretti’s latest film is an incredibly personal one, but instead of doing what we might expect, and casying himself in the lead role, he has changed the role to a female part, allowing the film to speak for itself.

Margherita Buy is fantastic in the lead role, easily treading the tightrope between grief and pleasure, work and life, death and carrying on. We see the film through her eyes, and although her supporting cast are incredibly strong, it is with Margherita that the film lives and dies. John Turturro is a ball of arrogance, noise and pretentiousness as Barry, and bring some much needed levity to the film through his fictional stories, his demands and the jokes he tells that never land. Of course, he is a source of constant frustration for Margherita, but he embraces the role, speaks Italian well and generally throws the fact that life does, and must, go on into sharp relief. Giulia Lazzarini is heartbreaking as Margherita’s ailing mother, Moretti himself turns up as Margherita’s brother, and Beatrice Mancini plays Margherita’s daughter Livia.

Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo and Valia Santella’s screenplay carefully balances grief and ridiculous humour in the film, making the film feel almost painfully honest at times; there is no tragedy without joy, and there is no joy without sadness, and the two are wonderfully tangled together in the film. Without Turturro’s character, the film would fall along the lines of Amour; a woman coming to terms with the slow decline of her mother, and desperately trying to hold her life together. While the film certainly still is this, it is also screamingly funny, often seconds after a moment of true grief.

As director, Moretti has created a film that feels honest, painful and beautiful, while capturing the horrible impatience, struggle and despair that comes when life quickly spirals out of our control. The film is well paced and, although each of the actors does a fine job, this is really Buy, Turturro and Lazzarini’s film, with the latter’s final line of the film one of joy and utter heartbreak.

In all, My Mother is a funny, tragic and often heartbreaking film that feels personal and honest. Buy and Turturro shine, and although there were plenty of tears shed at this morning’s screening at Cannes, there were also gales of laughter, proving that Moretti has made a wonderfully balanced film, a film that is surely a return to form for the director.

Rating: 4/5

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