Thursday, March 21, 2002

Family affair

Movie: The Son's Room

Posted on Thu, Mar 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 3.50

In Italy, Nanni Moretti is known as the Woody Allen of his country. Many of Moretti's movies, in which he both stars and directs, have been whimsical comedies about modern neuroses. But with "The Son's Room," he moves into much more serious territory, grappling with the worst kind of fear come true -- especially for a parent.

The film, which won the Palme d'Or (top honors) last year at Cannes, is a moving work that's ultimately more optimistic than the similarly themed "In the Bedroom." Like "Bedroom," Moretti deals with the unexpected loss of a child and the emotional damage that can cripple even the most loving of families.

Moretti, whose 1994 "Dear Diary" concerned his own (mistaken) diagnosis with cancer, shines in his role as the likable family-man Giovanni, a relatively affluent psychiatrist who -- even before his own loss -- faces a professional struggle: What does he have to offer his patients, many of whom adhere to the same emotionally unhealthy patterns of behavior even after lengthy treatment?

On the day his own world is to collapse, Giovanni reluctantly agrees to attend to one of his most needy (and neurotic) patients, revamping his family's plans for some quality time together. By nightfall, Giovanni is blaming himself -- and his client -- for what happens to his son in his absence. How might things have been different if he hadn't changed plans? What might he have done differently? Had he been too complacent about his happy family?

Giovanni is haunted by a sense of personal responsibility and, despite all his psychiatric training, is at a loss to make sense of a random event. That is, until he and his now estranged wife, Paola (Jasmine Trinca), come across a love letter from a girlfriend they didn't know their son had. Their journey to find the girl ultimately helps the family members climb out of their deep well of grief.

Moretti's story gains resonance as it builds toward its conclusion, and he consistently manages to avoid melodrama. Toward the end, as the family takes what might be considered a road trip to nowhere, Brian Eno's ballad "By This River" becomes integral to the movie's message. Like the tune, the film is often melancholy in tone, but it ends on a hopeful note that makes the emotionally charged trip worth the ride.


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