Film: The Son's Room

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Film:

The Son's Room: (La Stanza del Figlio)

Director: Nanni Moretti
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Distributor: Miramax Home Video

Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti’s signature talent for the overheard, unexpected, and happened-upon detail lends The Son’s Room, the story of a grieving middle-class family, the unnerving quality of an unwanted surprise. Giovanni (Moretti) is a successful psychoanalyst whose family life is remarkably placid and enviously intimate: his beautiful wife (Laura Morante) and two intelligent, attractive teenage children are unafraid of their emotions. When his son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), drowns in a diving accident, Giovanni is driven to suspend his…

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Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti’s signature talent for the overheard, unexpected, and happened-upon detail lends The Son’s Room, the story of a grieving middle-class family, the unnerving quality of an unwanted surprise. Giovanni (Moretti) is a successful psychoanalyst whose family life is remarkably placid and enviously intimate: his beautiful wife (Laura Morante) and two intelligent, attractive teenage children are unafraid of their emotions. When his son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), drowns in a diving accident, Giovanni is driven to suspend his practice and unintentionally betray his patients as he is haunted by what small choice he might have made in order to avert his son’s death. Moretti, more widely known for his comedies, masterfully recreates how seemingly trivial things can take on such importance in the aftermath of tragedy. The intricacies of remembering are traced with such a light touch that the cumulative impact of the film is far greater than its many well-chosen details. Winner of the Palme d’Or (highest honor) at the Cannes International Film Festival, The Son’s Room, which refuses melodrama at every step, is a deeply affecting portrait of familial love and the ritual of grieving. —Fionn Meade

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The Son’s Room, which picked up the 2001 Palme d’Or at Cannes, marks a departure for writer-director Nanni Moretti. The films that made his name outside Italy, Dear Diary and Aprile, were both highly personal and politicised semi-documentaries, and a strong political sense underlies the half-dozen or so features he made before them. By contrast, The Son’s Room is a subtle, intense study of a family cracking apart under the impact of grief, with no overt political element. For all that, it’s the most moving film that Moretti’s yet made. “It captured me” he says “more than any other [story] I’d worked on previously. It’s a film in which the director shares his emotions with the audience, without imposing his own feelings.”

As usual, the director plays his own lead character. Here he’s Giovanni, a successful psychiatrist in a provincial Italian city (Ancona on the Adriatic coast). He has a beautiful wife, happy in her own career, and two bright, good-looking teenage children, a son and a daughter. Then, out of nowhere, tragedy strikes and in its aftermath, the fissures begin to show in the idyllic façade. Giovanni in particular reveals the insecurities and neuroses lurking behind his tolerant, easy-going demeanour. Moretti homes in on his characters with clear-eyed compassion, never milking the tragedy for facile sentiment but sparing us nothing of the gut-wrenching grief they feel. Nor does he succumb to the temptation of a feel-good happy ending: we are left with a hint of hope for the future, but no more. This is intelligent, mature filmmaking that respects its audience. —Philip Kemp

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