Moretti blends humor with death in Cannes film ‘Mia Madre’

With the lack of women filmmakers a hot topic at Cannes, Italy’s Nanni Moretti has shown the semi-autobiographical “Mia Madre” (My Mother) about a female director whose mother is dying and own life is out of control.

In a brilliant blend of comedy and pathos, the competition film shown on Saturday draws on a small pool of actors and actresses including Margherita Buy as the director Margherita, Italian stage actress Giulia Lazzarini as the dying Ada, and Beatrice Mancini as the director’s teenage daughter.

Moretti, who was inspired to make the film when his own mother died while he was directing a previous film, further personalizes this one by playing Margherita’s brother.

American John Turturro (“Barton Fink”) is a buffoon actor named Barry Huggins whose Italian is nowhere up to the task of starring in the fictitious film-within-a-film about labor protests at an Italian factory.

In the film’s most hilarious scene, Huggins claims to have been hired by Stanley Kubrick and kept waiting in a hotel for weeks for a part he never played. There’s an extraordinary moment later when Huggins flubs his lines and shouts: “I want to get out of here and go back to reality.” Cut immediately to the hospital where the dying Ada lies motionless in her sickbed, a more disturbing reality than anything the farcical Huggins can imagine.

Moretti, who won the festival’s top Palme d’Or prize in 2001 for “La Stanza del Figlio” (The Son’s Room), said after his competition film’s warmly received media screening that he hadn’t planned those shots to be consecutive but it came out that way in the edit.

“During the writing and the shooting of the film, we worked a lot to try to intermingle several levels of reality — you have dreams, you have memories, you have fantasies, and the times in the film match the times in the mind of Margherita where everything coexists,” Moretti said.

He also said that Buy’s character was not meant to be his alter ego in feminine guise, but rather a woman who seems to be in complete control on the set.

But her relationship has just ended, her new apartment floods overnight and her daughter by a previous marriage is having problems learning the Latin that the dying mother taught for a living.

“The character is very different from other women characters who take care of other people or are very enveloping. On the contrary, she is always somewhere else compared with where she actually is at that moment in time. She finds it very difficult to keep control of her life,” Moretti said.

The Latin the dying Ada taught may, in Moretti’s universe, stand for a dying art of cinema, but in this work he has made a film that shows cinema is alive and well in Cannes.

Van Sant not fazed by critics

A day before “Mia Madre,” Gus Van Sant offered his metaphysical tale set in Japan’s “suicide forest.” “The Sea of Trees” got a harsh reception from critics at Cannes, but the Palme d’Or-winner seemed unperturbed by the few boos that greeted his latest oeuvre after Friday’s press screening.

In “The Sea of Trees,” an American, played by Matthew McConaughey, travels to Japan to enter the Aokigahara forest and kill himself after his wife’s (Naomi Watts) death. There he meets a Japanese (Ken Watanabe) and both start a journey of self-reflection and survival.

“It’s an isolation to get to salvation, how facing death helps you find life,” McConaughey told a news conference on Saturday.

The effort was dubbed a “dishonest tear-jerker” by The Guardian and Variety called it a “risibly long-winded drama.”

Van Sant, who won the Palme d’Or with “Elephant” in 2003, did not appear too concerned.

Academy Award winner McConaughey put on a relaxed face, too, telling a news conference ahead of Saturday’s public premiere: “Anyone has as much right to boo as they do to ovate.”

Van Sant said: “I read one review this morning and it was very definitive. I was imagining everyone was the same person as the one who wrote it and I was like now I know where we stand — it was kind of nice but then I got nervous later.”

“Elephant” also had a mixed reception from the press before winning the highest distinction. “I remember … there was some kind of fight after Elephant’s’ screening, there was a fisticuffs about whether it was good or bad,” said Van Sant. “They were punching each other and that was at Cannes.”

Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions has acquired US rights to “The Sea of Trees,” an opus that is more reminiscent of Van Sant’s “Gerry” than his more acclaimed “Good Will Hunting” or “Milk,” before the Cannes festival.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman