Mia Madre (My Mother) (2015)

76 Mia Madre

Melodrama is low in the genre pecking order because of its emotional exaggerations and use of stereotyped characters, most of whom are women. In this sense, Mia Madre (2016) is a purely melodramatic exploration of emotions associated with the dying of a parent as seen through the eyes of a loving daughter. This would be unoriginal on its own, so the film weaves multiple relationships into the narrative, all of which are stressed to breaking point, with a few comedic touches to make the story bearable. This matrix of emotional turbulence is standard fare in the dying parent narrative, but Mia Madre has a fine sense of balance in blending laughter and tears.

Margherita is a single-minded Italian director trying to complete a film when she learns that her mother Ada is dying. She is also dealing with a failed marriage, a teenage daughter who needs mothering, and the need to visit Ada every day. Her brother quits his job to care for Ada but Margherita tries to keep her world intact. As a perfectionist, she is demanding on the set where filming is not going well because the leading man is hopeless. Her film is about an economic downturn, a failing factory and workers facing bleak times, sub-plots that mirror her own fractured life. It is a moving study of how a professional woman accustomed to being in control must deal with helplessness in the face of impending tragedy. It could easily have been self-indulgent except for the almost unnerving grace and dignity with which Ada deals with dying while those around her become increasingly frayed. Audience response will depend to a large extent on their empathy for, or experience of, these stages in the life journey.

In many respects the mother is the star of this film. While hers is the less demanding acting role, she is a portrait of what many of us want to imagine as the peaceful exit of a beloved parent. Margherita on the other hand traverses an emotional roller-coaster on which the shock of what is happening forces her to review the meaning of her life. The camera often dwells too long on moments of introspection but the performances of both principals are finely nuanced, emotionally rich and entirely believable. There are many reasons to praise this film, but in the main it is for audiences willing to vicariously experience a slow and dense melodrama about loss.


Director: Nanni Moretti

Stars: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini