Nanni Moretti has never shied away from using autobiographical elements and his sociopolitical views in his films. Moretti’s mother died during post production of his previous film Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope, 2010) With his latest effort Mia Madre he’s made a film in which a female director has to come to terms with her mother’s failing health and potential imminent death while directing a film about a social conflict (an Elio Petri like drama about factory workers on strike against a new Italo American owner) and has to deal with her American lead star (John Torturro, histerically funny at times) who proves to be somewhat difficult.
Moretti has never been that interested in becoming a purely visual filmmaker, his style (or lack of it according to some) is rather modest and certainly not flashy. Interesting in this perspective is one of the earlier scenes in the film where the director Margherita (Margherita Buy playing a female version of Moretti who does appear in the film as the brother) is wondering why one of her camera operators seems to be more interested in/siding with the police beating up the strikers instead of being appalled by the violence he has to film.
Most of the scenes with Torturro as Barry Huggins -who can’t stop telling tall tales of his days on the set of a Stanley Kubrick film, a director everyone in the film knows he’s never worked with- tend to be very funny. He’s more of a tragicomic character who seems to be acting difficult to hide his insecurities and or frustrations he has dealing with the Italian languague/dialogue he does not master.
On the other hand you have very emotional scenes were Margherita does not seem to be willing to accept her mother can’t take a few steps to get to a nearby toilet, or when she realises that all her mother’s life long study and knowledge of the classical languages -which she does pass on to her granddaughter- will disappear with her.
And in yet another -more dreamlike- scene some protagonists are getting in a seemingly endless line around several blocks (little Italian alleys would be more accurate) to go and see Wim Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987) in a revival arthouse cinema. ‘They say it’s a great film’ you can here coming from the queue.
It’s difficult to say if the film would have been better served by a purely dramatic approach as Moretti did with his Palme d’or winner La Stanza del Figlio (The Son’s Room, 2001).