My review of the great new film from Nanni Moretti is over at Flickering Myth and also below…
Nanni Moretti, an Italian master at fusing emotionally engaging stories with a rich vein of comedy, has done it again. Mia Madre (My Mother) is a warm-hearted, touching and often hilarious personal account taking in as many sides of life as human existence is capable of dealing out.
Concentrating on Margherita’s (Buy) struggles to complete her high-minded social realist film about job losses, economic crises and factory closures, Mia Madre does a fantastic job of contrasting the movie world with real life family concerns.
Moretti does this by alternating between the occasionally farcical difficulties Marguerita faces on-set with the emotionally overpowering stress of her mother Ada’s (Guilia Lazzarini) faltering health in hospital. The arrival of the naive, playful and egotistical American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro, wonderfully enjoying himself) adds a further complication to Margherita’s constant juggling of work problems and familial strains.
She is helped out by her brother Giovanni (Moretti, adding solid support as character and actor), who is able to cope with many of the demands of visiting their mother having taken leave off work for undisclosed reasons.
Both Margherita and Ada, a retired academic, have found a high level of success in their chosen careers – this contrasts with the manipulative and scheming Huggins, who although charming and intrinsically funny, is not all that he says he is.
Taking more of a back role in his portrayal of Giovanni, is interesting, for one gets the feeling that this is a deeply personal story for Moretti, and that in some respects he has put himself in the shoes of Margherita. This gender switch brings out another range of political and societal issues, with the context of gender equality touched upon subtly as a background piece.
Moretti is a film-maker who gets to the heart of terrifically complex ideas. All of his films show off a keen awareness of memorable ways to showcase comedy, tragedy and serious political points in expert style.
Out of all his films this rivals The Son’s Room for sheer emotional impact. Some may find it difficult to deal with the mixture of the slapstick scenes from Turturro’s character with the family agonies of losing a mother, but the integrity and honesty of the whole production is never in doubt.
The light and the dark, the amusing and the painful – after all, that is life. And Moretti has captured it (again) in all its magnificent, excruciating and testing detail. In short, it is a beautiful film. Go watch…
My review of God’s Pocket is over at Flickering Myth and appears below.
Directed by John Slattery.
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Caleb Landry Jones, Jack O’Connell and Bill Buell.
God’s Pocket’s blacker than oil humour is undoubtedly given extra poignancy by the fact that it will be one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films. This sense of tragic loss hangs heavily over the film and is difficult for viewers to wholly put to one side, but in terms of objectivity we can give it a go…
With that said, God’s Pocket – the directorial film debut of Mad Men actor and sometime episode director John Slattery – is a distinctly patchy affair. It does manage to show some real glimpses of comedic drama of an absurdist sort, as Hoffman’s character attempts to extract some kind of meaning from an unfriendly and unlikeable town. However, these segments drift off into a uncollected rag tag of jumbled motivations and causes.
Based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel, the film’s rambling plot takes place at some point in the late 1970’s. Following the frozen meat salesman and driver for small time crooks Mickey (Hoffman) as he negotiates the precarious path of the tough district, the film is full of unpleasant characters going about a self-consciously bleak existence.
This grimness is aggressively accentuated by Mickey’s rabidly racist step-son Leon (Landry Jones) who one day gets what most think he deserves during an argument at work. Only his mother, played with an overwrought intensity by Christina Hendricks, has any real sympathy for her boy, who she clearly only saw one side of.
Into this mêlée of ill-feeling and confusion arrives Jenkins’s grizzled Philadephia local newspaper reporter who senses something amiss. His hard-drinking noir-lite journo isn’t much of a struggle for the ever-reliable character actor, but sadly the voice over is stilted at best. Bringing all sorts of shifts in gear to the production, from noir-detective to black comedy and ill judged romantic drama, the setting of a city journalist in blue-collar town could work, but here it doesn’t. Basically, it would need a much tighter hold of what it’s trying to do and precisely why in order to do that…
Presumably striving for a sense of small town Americana noir-comedy akin to a Coen Brothers type level, this falls pretty far short of its aims. Not entirely without merit – the scenes involving Hoffman and Eddie Marsan’s take on a Philly undertaker give out an enjoyably dry form of slapstick – the film’s visual sense is well distributed as it shows off a less than glamorous side of urban life in full colour. John Turturro is another welcome addition to the already well packed roster of stars in this uneven production. His local mob organiser and florist is a not entirely believable character but the American indie stalwart gives it his usual mixture of out-there humour and chutzpah.
Central to the story is the question, when is it right that someone should die? Unfortunately, the story does not grip enough for this question to actually have the power that it imagines it might. Ultimately, the characters are so unlovable that it is difficult to care exactly what happens to them…