Review: Family bond endures in ‘Mia Madre’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

For a film that wanders into the surreal at will, revolves around a director making a movie, and risks the added element of a sometimes ugly American actor, “Mia Madre” turns out to be a surprisingly touching meditation on familial bonds, self-involvement and aging.

It turns out that director-writer-co-star Nanni Moretti uses the film’s many distractions to make the point that they are just that — distractions from the movie’s central story about a woman and her dying mother. There are some things that are important above all others.

The woman in this case is Margherita (Margherita Buy, in a finely calibrated performance), a celebrated Italian film director who is making what looks like a left-leaning (and somewhat clunky) film about oppressed factory workers. Brought in to play a corporate type who buys the factory is a swollen-headed American actor named Barry Huggins (John Turturro) who can just barely speak enough Italian to make things work.

Margherita has just broken up with a boyfriend, she has a teenage daughter and an ex-husband, and she has a tendency to run into her younger self, but what really matters is that her mother, a former teacher named Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), has taken a fall and is in the hospital. Margherita’s faithful brother Giovanni (Moretti) has taken a leave of absence to spend time with his mother, but Margherita — in the midst of shooting a movie that isn’t going so well — is less present.

And so it goes. Margherita is wrangling extras — why can’t they look more like real people? — one moment, sitting beside her bedridden mother the next. She is wrestling with how to show Barry Huggins driving a car, then she is sitting alongside Giovanni listening to a doctor’s grim assessment.

Such is life. There is no separating the day-to-day from the momentous; they happen at the same time. But “Mia Madre” finds the heart of things and clings to the center, even as the world swirls around it.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic

Twitter: @toomuchTomLong

‘Mia Madre’

GRADE: B+

Not rated

Running time: 106 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre