The Son's Room is all the more pleasurable because it bucks the trend of recent Italian imports by offering a story that isn't dependent upon waifs or village beauties. The film comes from an intelligent, graspable reality not bathed in honeyed sunlight and wall-to-wall violin music, where characters are instead more likely to reference Brian Eno and Raymond Carver than tug cloyingly at our heartstrings with Geppetto-esque mania.
Like In the Bedroom, the overhyped Todd Field debut and Oscar-bait, The Son's Room concerns a family coping with the death of a child. Part of the film's advantage over In the Bedroom is, perhaps, its lack of lifestyle familiarity and the sense that these characters are refreshingly unknown to us.
The family in The Son's Room has no instantly recognizable features, except perhaps in its country of origin, and so we are free to get to know them gradually and free of preconception. Director, writer and star Nanni Moretti eases slowly into the particular point of view of this grief-paralyzed family.
In America, Giovanni (Moretti) and Paola (Laura Morante) might be categorized as "yuppies" with their devotion to exercise and the parents' high-status occupations as psychiatrist and publisher. But this husband and wife also live in a small apartment filled with -- as Giovanni points out in a fit of disgust -- broken, chipped and worn-out things. Objects stay around the house, patched together again with glue, director Moretti suggests, because they are beloved.
Their children are treasured, too. When Irene (Jasmine Trinca) does her homework in the family living room, Paola and Giovanni listen in, protective and curious about their daughter's life. At the family breakfast table, mother and daughter engage in a goofy conversation about sports and which one makes the best sounds.
This cozy, harmonious solidarity is profoundly tested when their son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) dies in a scuba-diving accident. Moretti replays that disastrous day endlessly in the weeks after Andrea's death, imagining his son surviving had he not canceled their jogging date to attend to a suicidal patient.
Grief is a terrifically difficult emotion to render onscreen. So much of it is internal and, once the histrionics of finding out about the tragedy have passed, a bit dull. But Moretti finds ways to make its impact measurable -- principally by showing how dramatically Giovanni's relationship with his patients changes. Listening to an assortment of whining, slobbish pedophiles, depressives and garden- variety neurotics, we understand Giovanni's impatient irritation. These people have constructed elaborate, inescapable, obsessive problems to keep them occupied. Giovanni is afforded no such luxury. He has fallen irreparably into tragedy and no amount of talk or medication can get him out.
The film is a wake-up call to a petulant, self-indulgent world that has sucked its own thumbs wrinkled and soggy. Buck up; throw away the Prozac; know how far from actual tragedy you are, Moretti implores.
A winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, The Son's Room is quiet and unassuming. There are few violent confrontations in the film. For the most part, characters stew in their pain, stealing moments to cry in bedrooms, in a department store dressing room, or suddenly breaking down, like Giovanni, in the midst of a therapy session.
Rather than going out with the drastic, shocking act of In the Bedroom, The Son's Room lacks such emotional cataclysm. Instead, the film eases slowly toward a gentle, contemplative conclusion, suggesting more accurately the dangling, irresolvable, unfixable, and most importantly -- undramatic -- texture of real life.
In the latest 'Emory Looks at Hollywood' episode, Judith Evans Grubbs, Emory Professor of Roman…
"In the movies' worst scene..." should be "movie's"
--freelance copy editor, available for hire
I saw this headline before watching the movie yesterday, but this movie was way better…