Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre (My Mother) is Margherita’s (actor Margherita Buy) experience of seeing herself in the mirror, as her mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini) lays dying in the hospital. This is a slow, morose and potently self-reflective film. Moretti’s latest foray into auto-biographical storytelling brings us a universal theme, where the mother, a foundational, emotional facet of most people’s lives, has to be let go.
Margherita is a no-nonsense, feisty filmmaker, who rules with an iron fist and knows what she wants. She is supported by her brother Giovanni (played by Moretti himself), who remains in the shadows, continues to be her confidante, helps keep her sanity and is also the rock that will see the siblings through this traumatic process of losing their mother.
Margherita is deeply invested in directing her new film about labor rights, which has rhetoric, social justice, a true purpose to stir discussion, and all those thought-provoking tools strewn all over it. Thrown in for comic relief is an American actor Barry Huggings (John Turtutto), who is flown on to set to play the owner of the factory that is facing a labor revolt, to give it some glamour (perhaps). This sets chaos into motion, as he struggles to learn lines, butts heads with Margherita, and brings the whole production to a turtle’s pace. Barry’s character is effective and brings out laughs sometimes, but mostly remains underdeveloped and dispassionately acted.
While Margherita is dealing with the chaos that is Barry, she watches as her mother, ailing in a hospital bed, comes to terms with her end. The most touching scenes of the film are when mother and daughter struggle with Ada’s inability to do the most basic things: going to the washroom, sitting and eating, or just being able to stand. This bit is heart-wrenching and hits very close to home.
The film starts off slow, but picks up as the tension between Barry and Margherita comes to a head. Margherita is also hit with a realization that her treatment of people around her has been modest, at best. As this descends on her, she also consistently struggles with the impending loss of a parent who is everything she wanted to be. People share the impact Ada had on them, as she loved and cared and acted as mother for students, colleagues and so many others. Margherita accepts her failings and hopefully takes in some learning.
Filled with idiosyncrasies of filmmaking, on-set drama of a feisty filmmaker and crazy, tantrum throwing actors; we dabble between Margherita’s film set and her ailing mother’s bed. The film presents an interesting dichotomy of how perhaps life is a made up reality acted out, till we find ourselves at the doorstep of our end.
Brilliantly acted by Buy, her signature acting skills in full bloom, this spoke to me about loss of a loved one and how it’s never too late to self-reflect.