The Son's Room

on January 25, 2002 by Lael Loewenstein
Poignant yet extremely subtle in its ability to get under the skin, Nanni Moretti's “The Son's Room” was, among European critics, the hands-down favorite to win the Palme D'Or at Cannes. Stateside audiences might be underwhelmed by this downbeat family drama, but it should generate enough momentum off its positive reviews to score as an art-house item.

   In a departure from his recent real life-inspired films like “Aprile” and “Caro Diario,” Moretti's latest work returns firmly to the realm of fiction. Moretti plays psychiatrist Giovanni, a devoted husband (to Laura Morante's Paola) and father (to Jasmine Trinca's Irene and Giuseppe Sanfelice's Andrea). In its opening stages, the film establishes the routines of Giovanni's life, methodically juxtaposing scenes of warm family dinners with intense clinical sessions. Reassuring in its simplicity and day-to-day predictability, it's a life that will change without warning.

   One Sunday, Giovanni opts out of running with son Andrea in order to make a house call to a patient. That day the family members scatter. Moretti breaks the pace with a brisk montage in which each one embarks on his or her respective activity; while Giovanni tends to his patient, Paola goes shopping, Irene cruises on her moped, Andrea goes diving with friends. But Andrea does not return.

   Andrea's death is not shown and--until late in the picture-- is never directly verbalized. But its effect is jolting. A man who seemed to have his life under control, Giovanni is suddenly unable to deal with his emotional turmoil, interact with his family or focus on his patients. Moretti deploys a bracingly effective clinical objectivity to show the events in the funeral parlor: Silent but for the augmented sounds of electric screwdrivers and a blowtorch sealing the coffin, the sequence is remarkable for its brutal, unadorned realism.

   The film's painful middle section yields to a third act in which the family members arrive at an uneasy truce. That tentative resolution is prompted by the appearance of young Arianna (Sofia Vigliar) who, unbeknownst to his parents, Andrea had romanced the previous summer. For Giovanni and Paola, Arianna provides a link to the past, and surprisingly, a bridge to the future.

   It's worth noting that while its plot makes “The Son's Room” sound frightfully close to a network TV movie of the week, the film is nothing of the sort. Infused with a moral and emotional ambiguity and Moretti's characteristic humanity, it's a forceful and deeply affecting work. Starring Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante and Jasmine Trinca. Directed by Nanni Moretti. Written by Linda Ferri, Nanni Moretti and Heidrun Schleef. Produced by Angelo Barbagallo and Nanni Moretti. A Miramax release. Drama. Italian-language; subtitled. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 87 min

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