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Son's Room, The
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by Andrew Howe

"Meditative, but not moving"
3 stars

Winner of the Palme díOr at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, Italian writer/director Nanni Morettiís latest film is only twenty minutes old before a relatively functional nuclear family is forced to come to terms with the death of a son. The premise doesnít want for dramatic potential, but the script fails to offer us anything we havenít seen before, and the bland protagonists deflect any attempt to become involved in their lives.

Giovanni (Moretti) is a small-town psychoanalyst who typifies the kind of loving husband and supportive father that rarely exists outside of writersí imaginations. His wife Paola (Laura Morante) is similarly appealing, and their teenaged children Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and Irene (Jasmine Trinca) are about as wholesome as you can get without crossing the line into full-blown fabrication (a scene where the entire clan has a singalong in the car oozes a nauseating devotion that would not have been out of place in The Brady Bunch). A diving accident shatters their idyllic existence, leaving them to grapple with the hard lesson that a life well-lived is no protection from random tragedy.

If it sounds like Iím denigrating Morettiís noble intentions itís only because his set-up doesnít pay the expected dividends. Itís unwise to build your opus around garden-variety bereavement, since watching someone shed a few tears while wandering around the house in a daze isnít enough to carry a ninety minute feature. Most films prolong the agony through a drawn-out terminal illness or use the loss as a catalyst for bringing deep-seated personal issues to the surface, so Morettiís decision to initially portray the central characters as candidates for sainthood should have provided a wrenching contrast to their inevitable disintegration.

Disintegration is a relative term, however, and Giovanni indulging in guilt-ridden fantasies, Paola obsessing over a girl who won her sonís heart and Irene starting a fight during a netball match are not riveting reactions (at least in the matter-of-fact manner theyíre presented here). The impact of their stony-faced demeanour is certainly enhanced by the upbeat atmosphere of the opening scenes, but nobody screams at their loved ones, nobody bares their soul, nobody takes solace in the bottle Ė they work it through in a civilized fashion, and while it may be realistic itís difficult to ascertain what Moretti thought he would achieve by turning down the volume. There are no surprises on this particular journey, with the narrative plodding to its conclusion in an almost mechanical fashion, making it one of the least moving meditations on mortality Iíve ever witnessed.

The film is not entirely unworthy of our attention - Moretti rises above his underwritten role with a personable performance, and the castís naturalistic portrayals are enhanced by the central trioís ability to convincingly convey their charactersí suffering (an area where many highly paid actors could use some remedial training). The insights into Giovanniís working life are mildly diverting, several scenes elicit the empathic reaction the filmís subject matter entitles us to expect (a funeral sequence is shattering) and the resonant final scene provides a satisfying conclusion.

Unfortunately, weíre still left with a film that has little to add to a well-worn subject, with the nondescript characters and straightforward narrative contributing to an unusually clinical experience. See it for Morettiís performance and the moments when the script hits the mark, but if youíre in the mood for a cathartic cleansing youíd be advised to seek your pleasures elsewhere.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5609&reviewer=193
originally posted: 02/21/02 01:35:01
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User Comments

9/24/09 Ian McCracken If you've never experienced grief it's boring, otherwise it's beautifully touching 5 stars
11/13/07 Phil M. Aficionado Where was the rest of the family? Strong acting but not really original. Good-plus 4 stars
8/27/04 Abu truly fantastic. some might say it's a tad too normal but that's life. emotionally touching 5 stars
10/01/02 T Morey This is as good a film as has ever been made. 5 stars
9/28/02 Peter Sherlock Well intentioned domestic drama. OK but not a burster. Do we need to see everyday stuff? 3 stars
5/24/02 Monster W. Kung Forgettable drama by Moretti. Not worth praise nor derision. 3 stars
3/15/02 Peter Brook Not Moretti's best, but an engaging, sincere and heartwarming movie. 4 stars
12/23/01 George Flick amazingly expressive! 5 stars
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  25-Jan-2002 (R)



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