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The Son's Room   B

Miramax Films

Year Released: 2001 (USA: 2002)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Nanni Moretti
Writers: Nanni Moretti, Linda Ferri, Heidrun Schleef
Cast: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca, Giuseppe Sanfelice, Sofia Vigliar.

Review by Eric Beltmann

For me, the most resonant image in Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room occurs not in the bedroom but on the basketball court. The face of a young girl lifts when her father enters the gym, but almost instantly slumps after recognizing that he bears terrible news. She hardly notices when the ball is ripped from her fingers. Using only a few brief shots, Moretti silently confirms the closeness of their family, but also how the world narrows after unexpected tragedy occurs. In this case, a bizarre diving accident has killed the family's only son, opening a void that expands over time. Like In the Bedroom, another picture about bereavement and its life-altering ripples, The Son's Room, which collected last year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, is less about grief than about coping with it.

Thinner on plot than its American cousin, this Italian production focuses on the father, a contented middle-class analyst named Giovanni, played by Moretti himself. Moretti is revered in Europe for his comedies (I have affection for his semiautobiographical Caro Diario), but here he generates an ambience of anguish, an unremitting sense of inner havoc that insinuates itself in small ways rather than showy ones. Repetition sets in during the workplace scenes, as Giovanni's sorrow infects his sessions, spoiling his judgment -- he is a damaged man striving to mend others -- but these vignettes capably reveal how impossible it is to cage tragedy within the walls of home; it plagues every corner of life, occupying every moment. Far more harrowing, though, is the way Giovanni quietly permits guilt to shepherd his sadness: What if he had gone jogging with his son that morning rather than answer a patient's call? Consumed by remorse, Giovanni frequently envisions the outcomes had he made different decisions, and Moretti's performance eloquently depicts the perils of such speculation.

I wish Moretti had found a more distinctive visual style to articulate these intense emotions, but he still manages to locate poetry in the ordinary setups. One example I haven't been able to shake occurs as the family watches the son's coffin being nailed shut. Both poignant and unsettling, the clinical sequence captures the finality of death in a way the funeral mass, conducted later, doesn't. Rather than soothe him, the priest's platitudes annoy and frustrate Giovanni, which is a disclosure that helps explain why the picture averts easy resolutions. Misery is a more complex emotional state than can be summarized, let alone cured, by insipid sentences, or by neatly organized plot developments. Devoid of sentiment, The Son's Room becomes a story about real misery, about the dreadful room a son's absence leaves in a parent's life.

That vacancy is permanent, but when Giovanni and his wife Paola (Laura Morante) discover a love letter addressed to their son, they attempt to briefly refill it. Eager to gain new information about their son, they contact the note's author, a young girl they never met. Initially she refuses to see them, perhaps because she doesn't know what to say to grieving parents, or perhaps because she has a new companion, but finally she relents. Rather than squeeze this scenario for catharsis, Moretti targets a softer version of heartbreak. Giovanni kindly offers to drive the girl and her boyfriend to their destination near the French border, and the impulsive jaunt serves, simply and superbly, as a reminder that life goes on. Despite its subject matter, The Son's Room is a beautiful work -- this is melancholy without the melodrama.

Review published 06.02.2002.

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