There is something to be said about a film that takes a depressing subject matter and present it to us in a way that we don’t see very often. Italian actor and director Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre follows the life of a middle-aged director Margherita (Margherita Buy) who is currently in the middle of filming her latest picture and at the same time grappling with the fact that her mother is dying. Being the demanding director that she is, she occasionally throws a fit when one or two details don’t work the way she want them to.
Juggling her professional and personal lives is, naturally, no easy feat for Margherita and we see her struggling desperately to find a balance. It’s an existential crisis of the first order and this is exactly the kind of film you might fancy watching if you are going through one yourself. I actually was going through one when I saw this film and for some reason, the experience turned out to be oddly therapeutic. Anyway, things only get more complicated when Margherita learns that her mother’s condition is worsening by the day. Meanwhile, complications also arise in the form of an American actor called Barry Huggins who is brought in to fill the shoes of a character that will be playing a prominent role in her film.
Huggins is played by one of the greatest actors the world has ever known, John Turturro. Huggins proves to be extremely difficult to work and makes things worse for her than it already is. He claims to have worked with Stanley Kubrick and thinks he is Jack Nicholson. But despite being a pompous prick, we slowly come to realize that it’s Huggins who is able to provide the welcome dose of humor for both her and us. It is easily Turturro’s finest role since a very long time.
Glimpses of Margherita’s relationship with her mother are revealed to us in small flashbacks and Moretti skillfully manages to place us firmly inside her psyche. We get a palpable sense of every single emotion experienced by Margherita as tries to come to terms with the reality that she would soon have to live in a world where her mother is no more. There are few scenes where Margherita breaks down and we find them a bit hard to watch. I was thinking of my parents the whole time and how I would respond if I were put in the same situation as her.
We also get a look at Margherita’s relationship with her brother (played by Moretti himself), who is the only person she can truly confide in and her daughter, whose presence in the story continually reminds us that one day she may have to go through a similar experience as her mother did. This is one of those films that invite you to reassess your own relationship with your parents and fix it if it is a strained one. There are dream sequences that are reminiscent of the films of Fellini but these are not overdone and are very much grounded in reality. Paolo Sorrentino, Moretti is not.