La stanza del figlio
starring Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca, Giuseppe Sanfelice
screenplay by Linda Ferri, Nanni Moretti, Heidrun Schleef
directed by Nanni Moretti
by Walter Chaw Teetering along the narrow line that separates "poignant" from "maudlin," the curiously detached The Son's Room (La Stanza del figlio) ultimately errs on the side of the latter through increasingly unsubtle and rote revelations about the process of grief. Written (with Linda Ferri and Heidrun Schleef), directed, and starring the "Italian Woody Allen," Nanni Moretti, the film is too clearly the product of a veteran comedian's mind: all seriocomic vignettes barely tied together by the loosest of narrative structures. It may be more appropriate to describe Moretti as the Italian version of America's own teary velvet clown: Robin Williams. (Unflattering, yes.) The winner of the prestigious Palme d'or at this year's Cannes Film Festival (beating out Mulholland Drive, In The Bedroom, and The Man Who Wasn't There, each this film's superior), La Stanza del figlio is well performed but unconvincing, aspiring to a sober emotional depth that is consistently undermined by high-decibel wailing, a tinkling, sappy soundtrack and score, and melodramatic trials and their telegraphed resolutions.
Moretti is Giovanni, a moderately successful psychiatrist who lives an idyllic existence in a modest home with his beautiful wife Paola (Laura Morante), basketball-playing daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca), and soft-spoken son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice). The first part of the film sets up the cute relationships Giovanni enjoys with his quirky patients and deals with a small crisis that results in Andrea being suspended from his school for ten days. When a far graver tragedy besets the family roughly midway through The Son's Room, the film takes a sudden turn towards strident ululation and unearned pathos. (Though it's clear why a couple's relationship might become threatened by grief, there just isn't enough of a justification for the marital strife before it materializes full-force between Giovanni and Paola.) The Son's Room, in fact, shakes itself out as an over-rehearsed character drama that robs its few truly affecting scenes of the growing fear and spontaneous courage that lends an immediacy to screen portrayals of sorrow. Without immediacy, any performance piece plays as too scripted, and the "too-scripted" pieces about weighty topics in The Son's Room begin to take on the hue and cry of self-satisfaction.
The strongest portions of the film are its quietest, all of them eventually overwhelmed by garbage sentiment like a full-auditorium scuffle instigated by Irene during a basketball game, a pair of long, sad takes scored by an unbearable Brian Eno song, a clumsily-manipulated intrigue involving a surrogate in a Freudian fort/da game, and an entire denouement dependant upon the cumbersome symbolic portent of a drive down a winding road. When not directly undermining its scenes of family strength and steady unravelling with its misplaced exuberance, The Son's Room takes bizarre detours into uninteresting back alleys populated with an interminable series of Giovanni's sessions. (One of his patients appears to be aping Travis Bickle.) The problems of the film can be distilled in this way: it takes an archetypal tragedy and approaches it with a scatterbrain and a machine attitude that can never quite transcend its own cold calculation to achieve the kind of warmth and connection its subject requires. And deserves.
Moretti's The Son's Room is a glorified movie-of-the-week, complete with closing shots of shared laughter and an obvious farewell take from behind a bus window. The most thought-provoking, disturbing insight the film has to offer on the inability of the species to endure unimaginable horrors, in fact, is the near-certainty that Robin Williams will buy the rights for the American remake any day now--and that Chris Columbus could direct him in it. Originally published: October 11, 2001.