Moretti has made half of a wonderful film. Margherita's relationship with her mother, freighted with guilt, fear and vulnerability, is beautifully played by the two actors, eschewing sentimentality for a bolder, more honest look at losing a parent. Part of Margherita's guilt comes from the fact that even her mother's imminent death is inconvenient, just another unreliable element of her life to be factored in with bursting washing machines, incompetent crew members and her daughter's school work. Ada, for her part, is bored of her illness but also increasingly unsure of herself and her own memories. A former schoolteacher, Ada is loved by her students and family - the relationship between her and her granddaughter is particularly exquisite. This is all conveyed in light pencil strokes of startling precision and simplicity. However, this delicate human drama - reminiscent of Moretti's Palme d'Or-winning The Son's Room (2001) - is constantly interrupted by the altogether ordinary and often unfunny satire on making a film.
The ugly American is such a tired and easy cliché that Turturro can be forgiven for trying to liven it up with some grandstanding. His role as the wicked factory boss in the film within the film compounds the cliché. It would be difficult to contradict the veracity of Moretti, who lost his own mother while filming We Have a Pope (2013), but all the filmmaking moments feel surprisingly false, contrived merely to give Margherita something to react against. Likewise, the dream sequences also feel indulgent, confusing and basically not like dreams. Nobody dreams in ways that are so narratively pertinent. Mia Madre is an intimate and sincerely made family portrait, which ends up betraying its own indifference to anything beyond the confines of the family.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty