By Michael Roddy
CANNES, France (Reuters) - With the lack of women filmmakers a hot topic at Cannes, Italy's Nanni Moretti has shown the semi-autobiographical "Mia Madre" (My Mother) about a female director whose mother is dying and own life is out of control.
In a brilliant blend of comedy and pathos, the competition film shown on Saturday draws on a small pool of actors and actresses including Margherita Buy as the director Margherita, Italian stage actress Giulia Lazzarini as the dying Ada and Beatrice Mancini as the director's teenaged daughter.
Moretti, who was inspired to make the film when his own mother died while he was directing a previous film, further personalizes this one by playing Margherita's brother.
American John Turturro ("Barton Fink") is a buffoon actor named Barry Huggins whose Italian is nowhere up to the task of starring in the fictitious film-within-a-film about labor protests at an Italian factory.
In the film's most hilarious scene, Huggins claims to have been hired by Stanley Kubrick and kept waiting in a hotel for weeks for a part he never played.
There's an extraordinary moment later when Huggins flubs his lines and shouts: “I want to get out of here and go back to reality.”
Cut immediately to the hospital where the dying Ada lies motionless in her sickbed, a more disturbing reality than anything the farcical Huggins can imagine.
Moretti, who won the festival's top Palme d'Or prize in 2001 for "La Stanza del Figlio" (The Son's Room), said after his competition film's warmly received media screening that he hadn't planned those shots to be consecutive but it came out that way in the edit.
"During the writing and the shooting of the film, we worked a lot to try to intermingle several levels of reality - you have dreams, you have memories, you have fantasies, and the times in the film match the times in the mind of Margherita where everything coexists," Moretti said.
He also said that Buy's character was not meant to be his alter ego in feminine guise, but rather a woman who seems to be in complete control on the set.
But her relationship has just ended, her new apartment floods overnight and her daughter by a previous marriage is having problems learning the Latin that the dying mother taught for a living.
"The character is very different from other women characters who take care of other people or are very enveloping. On the contrary, she is always somewhere else compared with where she actually is at that moment in time. She finds it very difficult to keep control of her life," Moretti said.
The Latin the dying Ada taught may, in Moretti's universe, stand for a dying art of cinema, but in this work he has made a film that shows cinema is alive and well in Cannes.
(Michael Roddy is the Entertainment Editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own.)
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)