Buy plays loveable, struggling film director and single mother, Margherita. While well into production on her latest feature (a drama about striking factory workers), Margherita is forced to help her sick mother in the final weeks of her life. Co-managing her mother’s welfare while processing the imminent demise begins to take is toll on Margherita as growing family needs take precedence over a demanding production schedule, resulting in personal conflicts and trifling work tantrums.
Relationships between family and work colleagues coalesce well and ground Mia Madre’s drama and comedy in a palpable reality. Meanwhile, the story follows Margherita through professional soirées and family meetings to discuss her mother’s condition with superb performances from Buy, Guilia Lazzarini as her mother Ada and Beatrice Mancini as Margherita’s teenage daughter Livia. Moretti himself plays the older brother Giovanni and John Turturro’s obnoxious acting co-worker Barry Huggins is strangely endearing, sometimes grating and mostly hilarious.
While soldiering through her feature production, Margherita struggles to process emotions and maintain poise as well as her personal wellbeing. It are these type of character conflicts and nuances that make Mia Madre flourish as a sterling work and resonate more than it would using the make-shift theatrics of a hack mainstream feature. In the wrong hands it could have been stripped of its essence but Moretti and Buy work wonders with the source.
Restrained yet frequent humour sprouts throughout, peppering the performances with a welcome poignancy while providing relief from the complex gloom at the story core. The plot itself feels slight at times and strays in the final act in favour of prolonged scenes and greater focus on loud comedic outbursts but the ethereal quality of Mia Madre prevails, blurring boundaries within the film reality (similar to the existential crisis Margherita is also experiencing) and makes the film more magical.
Meanwhile a choreographed dance sequence pangs but is pertinent while a delicate piano score accentuates the drama without overriding the story arc or acting. Considering the international posters, Mia Madre appeared to be a sombre, heart-wrenching drama better suited to home viewing (where one can wail loud and free) but like Margherita, Mia Madre is tender yet resilient. It’s more than a face-aching tear-jerker but a personal, poignant and hilarious tale of family bonding and film-making unfurling in the shadow of death.