The Son's Room Review
There are a few topics that it would appear to defeat common sense for the Hollywood moguls to attempt to make an entertaining, profitable film out of; paedophilia, for one, family tragedy for another. However, Todd Field's In the Bedroom certainly made a good job of portraying a middle-class American family torn apart by their son's death. All the same, Field's film simply doesn't compare to The Son's Room, the latest film by Nanni Moretti. A worthy winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, it is unlikely to appeal to a wide general audience but will satisfy those looking for a more refined experience than the usual Hollywood saccharine.
The plot is simplicity itself. Giovanni (Moretti) is a successful psychiatrist, with a loving wife Paola (Morente), and two happy children, Irene and Andrea (Trinca and Sanfelice). However, as he deals with the usual assortment of oddballs, he is struck by occasional doubts as to his purpose in life, and, more specifically, his son's wellbeing, especially as he finds him involved in trouble over the suspected theft of a fossil from his school. However, before everything appears to be settled to Giovanni's satisfaction, tragedy strikes, and he is forced to reassess his life.
Although Momentum, the distributors of this, might well be helping for another crossover hit along the lines of Moretti's earlier, lighter Dear Diary, this is, at times, a fairly intense look at bereavement and loss; certainly, there is a complete absence of traditional Hollywood gimmicks. The second half of the film actually contains surprisingly little dialogue, instead using an oft-repeated Brian Eno song called 'By This River' to indicate Giovanni's state of mind, even as he attempts to deal with the problems that he faces. As a look at the unexpected death of a loved one, this is the most honest and unsentimental filmed account since Shadowlands, although it has little in common with the glossy trappings of that film, instead taking on an almost ascetic quality in the cinematography and settings. Only at the end does Moretti move the action to the more spacious confines of the French border, for reasons explained perfectly in the film, which may or may not imply some sort of new start for the family.
Moretti, who has hitherto been known as a light comic actor in the UK, here gives a startlingly good performance that should have had the acclaim that Roberto Benigni's in Life is Beautiful did a few years ago. Managing to perfectly convey Giovanni's thoughts, feelings and emotional turmoil with little more than subtle facial expressions and spare, reflective dialogue, he nevertheless convinces perfectly as a human being who is jerked out of his semi-complacent lifestyle by tragedy beyond his deepest fears. The rest of the cast are, inevitably, slightly overshadowed, but are all excellent; Morente brings a more maternal side to the film as his grieving spouse, and Trinca (in her debut) and Sanfelice (in his second film) are whollly convincing as his children.
This is not going to be a fun night out for all the family (if it was, it might well lead to visits to Giovanni-like psychiatrists), but it is highly recommended for anyone who has had the misfortune to lose a close member of their family recently, as it is a more honest, unsentimental and moving account of what loss actually is than any number of bombastic and empty Hollywood 'tearjerkers'. Highly recommended, and well worth making an effort to catch it beyond your local multiplex.