Nanni Moretti's latest film, "Mia Madre" received 10 minutes of applause upon its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last night. European-film website, Cineuropa has been closely covering this film. They described it as a whirlwind of intimate and universally-shared emotions, with an exceptional performance from Margherita Buy. Hospital and set, public and private: these are the two juxtapositions that run the length of the film, alternating like clockwork. Buy's character is a director shooting a film about a group of factory workers who risk losing their jobs, but is also the daughter of a mother who is gravely ill (Giulia Lazzarini), the mother of a teenager who doesn’t want to focus on her studies (Beatrice Mancini), and the partner of a man she no longer loves (Enrico Iannello). She is also the sister of Giovanni (Nanni Moretti), with whom she shares her concerns and visits her mother’s bedside. The most serious stage of the illness coincides with the arrival on set of the guest star of the film, an American actor (John Turturro) who can’t remember his lines and is pretentious and difficult. We follow Margherita through her angry outbursts between takes, visits of locations and press conferences, and feel the pain she’s holding back every step of the way, whilst seeing a Moretti who is less like the usual centred, practical and reassuring character we are used to seeing in the role of the brother.
Below, I am reposting an in-depth interview with Nanni Moretti that was recently published on Cineuropa's website. It's rare for Moretti to talk at length about his work, so this interview really gives unique insight into his vision and inspiration behind this poignant work.
Nanni Moretti talks about latest film, "Mia Madre"
What was your motivation for this film and why did you choose a female alter ego?
Right from when I started working on the story with Gaia Manzini, Valia Santella and Chiara Valerio, the protagonist of the film was a woman, I never considered putting myself in the starring role. It’s been a while now since I last played the lead in a film, and I’m happy with that. I thought it would be interesting to transfer certain masculine traits to a female character. The role of the brother suited me down to the ground, although I must say that I can relate more to certain traits and the feeling of inadequacy Margherita’s character experiences. The death of a person’s mother is an important part of life, as many people know. It happened to me while I was editing Habemus papam In a non-sadistic way, I wanted to portray this stage in a person’s life.
How was it working with Margherita Buy?This is the third film we’ve done together, the previous two being The Caiman and Habemus papam. She took the weight of the film onto her shoulders. Throughout the 70 days of filming, she was always on set. She would often say to me “I really like being a director, it’s fun yelling at actors!”. Everything in Margherita’s character is bubbling up at the same time and with the same sense of urgency. There’s the way she’s never in the room, her feeling of inadequacy towards her mother, the concerns she has for her daughter, work-related problems, and thoughts and dreams. I like how in some scenes the viewer doesn’t immediately know if what they were seeing was real or imaginary.
The Son's Roomsee also: trailer
film profile, Caos calmo which you starred in, and now Mia madre have a common thread, the subject of loss. What is it that you find so fascinating about this?I find it hard to theorise about my work, when you explain things you risk generating confusion, instead of making them clearer. At any rate, when I was twenty years-old it would never have occurred to me to direct films like these, as time goes on you start thinking more about death. The Son’s Room was about fears and ghosts, whilst Mia Madre deals with an experience that many have been through.
How much of an influence did your mother have on your career?My mother and father had very little to do with my choice to go into film. When I finished school at the age of 19 and decided to try my hand at this obscure thing called film they limited themselves to supporting me lovingly and unobtrusively, which meant a lot. I get embarrassed talking about my real mother, but there were generations of her former students that kept going back to her and talking to her about everything, which I only found out after her death. I never had any teachers as points of reference.
In the film Margherita has a sort of catchphrase that she says to her actors again and again, without them even understanding what she means: an actor has to get into their character but also stand beside it. Do you share this conviction?It’s something that I, too, tell my actors, it’s not just to make a mockery of Brecht. I don’t think that actors should be one-dimensional. For example, when she gets mad, Margherita is not just shouting, she’s also in pain, there’s always something else going on.
Margherita is your alter ego, but in the film we see her directing a film which has very little of the classic style of your films: it’s an average production with strikes and factory scenes, of which there are many.I wanted there to be a clear point of separation between Margherita’s private life, which is unstable and delicate, and a very structured film. Her mind’s always elsewhere (at work she thinks about her mother, and then about her daughter…) whilst the film she’s shooting is very solid. But no, it’s not my usual style of film. I didn’t want it to be.
Do you share Margherita’s feeling of inadequacy?I’ve been in this business for decades, but it hasn’t left me detached and confident. The day before filming starts I still have the same nightmares as when I was a young man (of arriving unprepared on set, of there something being broken or missing…). The feeling of inadequacy is something I am well acquainted with, and not only in a public setting. I used to think that with time I would grow a thick skin, and yet I now realise that time has the opposite effect; the more it passes the more you feel out of your element. As for theme, I think that when you make a film, you make it and that’s it, even if the theme is very strong as is the case here. When a director is focusing on the script, the cast, the direction, the performance and the editing, they can’t invest as much time and energy into the theme they’re dealing with… having said that, perhaps I don’t entirely agree.