No 480 - The Son's Room (La Stanza Del Figlio)
Director - Nanni Moretti
I knew that this film had done very well when it had been premiered at Cannes in 2001. That, however was the end of my knowledge. I didn't even know it was an Italian film until it began!
It is a really brave film handling a very simple theme and the way that it handles the theme show all the differences between European and American drama.
I have started this blog with two one sentence paragraphs... which is truly awful writing. I promise that I shall now get on with and discuss the film's theme. The theme is death. Not just the notion of death but a family's reaction to it. What I particularly liked about the film is how soft it is, how underplayed. We are never told what to look at, instead it feels like a very real exploration of real people.
Nanni Moretti has not only written and directed this film, but he takes the lead role and he plays it beautifully.The film is set in two halves, both halves following the mundanities of day to day life as it follows a family (husband, wife and two children) through pretty standard family life and - after the death of their son - through a pretty standard mourning.
This is not a film about spectacle. There are no grand set pieces, there aren't even any particularly memorable lines (hence the Brian Eno quote for the title.... but more on that later) but there is a sense of very real emotion throughout.
I want to begin with the first half on of the film. We are introduced to the protagonist Giovanni, a therapist and a father who loves his sport and loves his family. In fact the entire too family are far too sporty if you ask me they're disgustingly wholesome and despite the normal minor tribulations of family life, they are exceptionally happy.
What I also like is just how ITALIAN the family is.. Giovanni reads poetry in bed to his wife before finding inspiration for a bit of rumpedy pumpedy. The daughter, Irene, gets into an excellent fight with pretty much everybody during a game of basketball. That and Giovanni seems to make a particularly excellent Lasagne.
So life is good for the fiery Italians, but something seems strange with the son, he is stealing ammonites from school, having secret girlfriends and eventually dies. It is after the death that the film really comes into its own. Nothing happens (don't expect action) but the exploration of the characters become truly amazing.
The film continues to follow Giovanni, and the importance of the series of events leading to Andrea's death.
Giovanni and Andrea plan to go running
Giovanni cancels for a last minute visit to one of his patients
Andrea goes diving instead (I told you it was a sickeningly healthy sporty family)
Andrea gets trapped in a cave
These events have a crushing effect on Giovanni as he blames himself for his son's death, the latter half of the film occasionally breaking away to fictionalised flashbacks of what he could have done differently to save his son.
Whilst the grief may be horrible, the presentation of that grief is sumptuous. Long and lingering shots of the character's faces allow you to see despair build up in waves. You can see the heart break in their eyes. You can see Giovanni's family gradually lose their fragile grip on normality. Giovanni's resentment for the patient whom he blames for Andrea's death. Giovanni's growing resentment for his job as a whole. It is all there to see in each hollow empty fragile movement, flitting from everything being fine to bursting into tears. It feels like real heartbreak and it is powerful and moving to watch.
It is all beautifully encapsulated by Giovanni listening to Brian Eno. A song that perfectly depicts the elegant fragility felt throughout the entire film.
What I also like is that once Andrea's secret girlfriend arrives, the family is given a sense of purpose and a sense of motivation. She is hitchhiking around Italy, the entire family drives her to France. As they travel in the car watching the relationship between the family and this new person soften and get less awkward, you also see the healing process begin.
When Arianna (The lovely Sofia Vigliar) finally leaves the family you can sense that they are at the beginning of a healing journey. You can sense that things might be OK.
The film never states any of this. It doesn't shout its message from the roof tops, it doesn't really even have a message so to speak. The film presents a family's story in an almost fairy tale level naturalism that makes me think of Wes Anderson or other similar Indie films. Small and character driven, but with the Italian Passion and balls that America just can't muster no matter how hard they try.
Speaking of which....
Do you think Nanni Moretti's Giovanni was inspiration for Steve Carell's character in Little Miss Sunshine...