Thursday, 14 January 2010

If Only...

Nanni Moretti is a fairly major name in Italian cinema, known as an actor, producer, director and writer, who has starred in many of his own films (something that often frustrates me...) I must confess I only had a passing knowledge of his name prior to a couple of months ago, and The Son's Room (La Stanza Del Figlio) is, I'm pretty sure, the only film I have seen either featuring him or made by him. As such, there is a distinct possibility that my appreciation of his performance in this film is not tempered by having seen him in other films, especially his own, something that I think affects my appreciation of the performances of other actor/directors such as Woody Allen or Clint Eastwood.

The Son's Room is about Giovanni (Moretti), and his reaction to the sudden, unexpected death of his son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice.) Giovanni is a psychiatrist, seemingly well off, with a beautiful wife Paola (Laura Morante) and two children, Andrea and Irene (Jasmine Trinca.) Andrea is in some trouble at school, but it isn't really that bad, while Giovanni has some difficult patients, one of whom calls him out on a Sunday. On his return he is informed that Andrea had died unexpectedly in a diving accident whilst he was with his patient.

Giovanni, naturally, doesn't take it well. Paola is devastated, while Irene seems to be disocciating and trying to hold the family unit together, but Giovanni is blaming himself and the patient who drew him away from his family on that Sunday. He imagines what the day may have entailed should he have said no to this patient, and they are all happy endings - running with his son, enjoying an ice cream, just generally keeping him away from the sea. He quickly goes back to work and proves particularly unable to deal with his patients problems - to him they all seem so trivial and pathetic when he is dealing with the loss of someone so dear to him, and his passion is now gone. With his son gone and his lust for his work gone, his wife a mess and his daughter struggling to hold it all together, he seems destined for a tragic spiral toward the bottom.

A letter appears from a girl called Arianna (Sofia Vigliar), a love letter. Andrea and Arianna had crossed over for a day at a camp a few months earlier, and she does not know about his death. When she arrives at the family door, at the behest of Paola, things begin to come back together for the family as they take a quick trip to the French border to drop hitchhiking Arianna and her friend off.

The Son's Room is a beautiful little portrait of loss and hope, of dreams and reality. It in no way overextends itself, content to dwell on the immediate reactions and responses of the three remaining family members, all to eager to cling to the well of discovery offered reluctantly by Arianna. With the exception of the patients Giovanni is seeing, the characterisations and performances are subtle and underplayed, and in some ways the hysteria of his patients is a soothing antidote to this - they're in a way offering up the illogical thoughts and grief that the family, particularly Giovanni and Irene, aren't as willing, or perhaps aren't able, to show. Yes, the patients are very stereotypical crazies, but as facets of Giovanni there is no other way to portray them.

The film won the Palme d'Or in 2001 over such films as Moulin Rouge!, Mulholland Drive and La Pianiste (and Shrek! Shrek was up for the Palme d'Or!), as well as many other lesser known titles, and I'm not about to come out and say it was more deserving than any one of them - though how often does the Palme d'Or go to a film that seems to have the general opinion behind it? I will say it is a solid character study, a well-crafted film about a moment and how that can affect people within a short space of time. Flashes of unexpected human beauty come through with Giovanni's imaginings of what could have been, and they are truly beautiful. Simple, but, strangely, lovely. 4 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment