The Son's Room
Directed by Nanni Moretti
Written by Nanni Moretti, Linda Ferri, Heidrun Schleef
Starring Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca, Giuseppe Sanfelice


The Son's Room

Those of us lucky enough to lead conventional middle-class lives, built on the underpinning of adequate income, bright children, a solid marriage, and at least moderately rewarding work, are the ones Italian writer-director Nanni Moretti is talking to with his film "The Son's Room." We all know that tragedy can strike anywhere, to anyone, at any time; but we don't really believe it can strike us. We're prepared to grieve in sympathy with someone - anyone - else, just so long as we can keep the pain at arm's length.

But here Moretti, previously known as a comic writer-director-actor in the Woody Allen vein, brings us a family tragedy that might as easily happen in provincial America as in his setting of the Adriatic coast city of Ancona. "The Son's Room" is a film about death and grief, but unlike the American "In the Bedroom," with which it has been compared, it does not rely on contrived melodrama for its resolution. Moretti plays Giovanni, a successful psychoanalyst with the kind of middle-class patients whose problems are less than truly life-threatening. His wife Paola (Laura Morante) runs an art gallery. They have two teenage children; daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca) is a basketball star at school, son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), the apple of his father's eye, is a charming athlete whose quirk is to refuse to compete. At school, early in the film, he is accused of having stolen a fossil from his school's science room - a charge he vehemently denies, and blames another student.

Director Moretti lets us spend some time in Giovanni's office, listening to his patients and watching him provide reasonably conventional responses; but one Sunday, when he'd planned to go jogging with Andrea, he takes a call from a panicked patient who insists that he come out to his house and help him deal with a crisis. So Andrea goes scuba diving instead, and is drowned. Just like that.

Now the family - like yours or mine - falls apart. Giovanni feels unable to help anyone else, and abandons his practice; Paola won't go to her gallery; Irene starts a fight on the basketball court and is suspended. The family stumbles, flails about, grieves without finding relief. We learn that Andrea told his mother that he and a friend had in fact stolen the fossil, as a prank, but that it broke before they could return it. Now the theft is only a trivial moment in a life lost forever.

And then, from out of the blue, comes a letter addressed to Andrea. It is from a girl named Arianna (Sofia Vigliar), who had met Andrea on a camping trip and would like to visit him. The family invites her to come, and in the loveliest and most understated way she becomes the instrument through which the family's healing can begin. It is a fitting and believable conclusion to this moving and very beautiful film.

Let me point out that "The Son's Room" is not a morbid dissection of death and disintegration. It is a study of a family confronted with an event beyond understanding or analysis, and of the ways in which loss, grief and the ability to heal are all somehow built into the human psyche. There is humor here, in much of what Giovanni hears from his patients on the couch; there is the very normal and conventional sense of family, both in and out of crisis; and there is the perceptive profile of a healer struggling to heal himself. The film deservedly won the Palme D'Or as best film at Cannes last year.