Mia madre fa l'attrice: mother and son, director and film, creator and creation
by Roberto Oggiano
- At the Turin Film Festival, Mario Balsamo goes down the mockumentary road to portray his relationship with his mother
Mario Balsamo, who already won the Jury Prize back in 2012, returns to the Turin Film Festival with Mia madre fa l'attrice [+see also:
film profile], a documentary produced by Rai Cinema, among others, which looks at the relationships forged between a mother and her son, a director and his film, the creator and creation.
A far cry from the dramatic tones used by Nanni Moretti in My Mother [+see also:
interview: Nanni Moretti
film profile], Balsamo goes down the mockumentary road to portray his relationship with his mother, Silvana Stefanini. Fiction and reality merge together on a number of planes, starting with the opening scene, with a twenty-year-old piece of film footage in which the writer explains a dream to his mother containing the storyline for a film: he directs her in the remake of a film in which she featured during the 1950s, Le barriera della legge by Pietro Costa.
The footage for the remake of this B-series melodrama becomes the basis for a profound analysis of the relationship between mother and son. Fights and misunderstandings, which are approached in a natural and playful way, are the central theme of the film, in which it is clear that when all is said and done, the remake that the actors dream of his that of their lives, their troubled relationship. The complex interplay between personal and professional life makes the staging tricky, the story is not always linear and the pastiche doesn’t always work: one of the film’s few flaws is its irritating use of filters and backdrops to try (unsuccessfully) to parody a language which is long gone.
The technical aspects of the film on the other hand either make for very moving moments or have a stifling effect. Empathy is not taken into consideration and the viewer is not involved in the film. There is, however, no lack of comical moments, and it is when Balsamo abandons artificiality that the movements and expressions of Stefanini are most telling, to the extent that even the viewer is left feeling that she really does deserve another chance as an actress. Balsamo makes this clear in the entertaining scene in which his mother has an audition with Carlo Verdone, which is also one of the film’s more successful scenes.
Balsamo’s investigation works backwards, adopting the style of a road movie when the pair travel to Tuscany, on the trail of a faraway past, visiting places from her childhood and youth, parties at the beach, the death of her loved ones. This is a film that gets more and more intimate as it reaches its conclusion, alternating between fixed camera shots and tracking shots. The director plays with time, showing us scenes from La barriera della legge in which a young black and white Silvana belts out an old jazz tune.
Chaotic and colourful, Mia madre fa l'attrice is an unbiased maternal portrait, a tribute to film and the moving and ironic life kept afloat by circumventing the risk of overexposure, a risk you always run in film when you try to throw too much light on a subject.
(Translated from Italian)