Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mia Madre - autobiographical, multi-layered and rather satisfying (at QFT until 1 October)

In a film about a film, Mia Madre’s director Nanni Moretti includes himself as Margherita (played by Margherita Buy). She’s a distracted figure caught between the chaos of shooting a film and the confusion of caring for her infirm mother Ada and separating from her partner Vittorio who is still acting on set. To further confuse matters, Nanni Moretti acts the role of Margherita’s brother in the film. And so begins the autobiographical film – the title translates as “My Mother” – that relives Nanni’s own experience of losing his mother five years ago while making Habemus Papam (We Have A New Pope).

“It’s not a sad film: it’s full of energy” says the on-screen director, perhaps giving the real life audience the first of many clues about how to engage with the movie they’re watching.

In the middle of the film, a press conference again gives the real director Nanni a voice to critique the industry through the mouth of his on-screen alter ego.

Scenes flit between sets, hospitals, apartments and Margherita’s imagination. When the cameraman supplies his own direction to frame shots more brutally than intended, and a lead actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro) can’t remember his lines, Margherita needs to assert herself and assume command. Can she follow the voices in her head that urge her to break out of at least one of her “patterns” and start to innovate?

Every scene revolves around Margherita whose instructions to cast members can be ambiguous and nonsensical, but they all seem too polite – or mystified – to say. While her brother has taken a leave of absence from work to concentrate on his mother, disturbed sleep leads Margherita to become easily flummoxed and a sense of panic ensues as she loses control.

A life-long Latin scholar, dying Ada has an organised mind but a slippery grasp of reality. There’s a tenderness to her relationship with her granddaughter. Ultimately, she’s better known and valued by her colleagues and ex-students than Margherita who is in denial and can’t bring herself to talk about death. Questions about lasting memories and familial comprehension jump off the silver screen as the audience watch Ada’s struggle.

Amongst the angst there are some brilliant moments of humour and there is much in this multi-layered and rather satisfying film that speaks out about modern cinema as well as family life and priorities. Mia Madre is being screened in the Queens Film Theatre until 1 October.

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