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The Son's Room (Nanni Moretti) 2001

2001's inexplicable winner of the Palm DíOr, Nanni Morettiís The Sonís Room is a lark. This isnít entirely surprising, considering the directorís previous films were all comedies (and perhaps it was his well-intentioned foray into serious drama that prompted the prize), but this film doesnít seem to realize the rules are slightly different when you are attempting to provoke a legitimate emotional response. Instead of showing us the ďbigĒ scenes in this story of a family that loses a son, the director opts to use so much restraint that the restraint becomes more of a manipulation than any overtly sentimental scene could ever be. For example, we donít see any of the family members actually learning that the son has died. We simply see their reaction shots. We donít see the filmís characters talking with each other about the grieving process, we simply see them as they break down and cry in solitude. The film, which seems concerned in its first half with suggesting weíre eavesdropping on its characters (most scenes show characters as they are interrupted, or shows conversations as another character listens in on it) and seeing inside their closed world drops that motif once the son dies. We get a few private moments, but they are all taken out of context. We are kicked outside of the familyís grief. As a result, none of the performances feels full. For all of the time we have spent with these characters, only the fatherís, played by the director, has any level of dimensionality to him at all.

The restraint in what is chosen to be shown is only outmatched by the heavy handedness in how things are shown to us.  The symbolism employed by the film is simplistic. Prior to the sonís drowning, we see the father sitting before a turbulent sea. When the filmís faux catharsis occurs, we see the family in front of a serene seascape. The son drowns in a cave (womb), not lightly suggesting the air of parental guilt that hangs over the incident.  The fatherís biggest scene of mourning is seen as he rides an amusement park ride that carries him up and down, as he spins without control. At one point, early on, the family even sings together, ďIn order to live, you have to die a little.Ē It goes on and on with such mind-numbing simplicity and the subtlety of a brick in the head. Also irksome is the fatherís occupation. He is a psychologist, and his patients we see seem to exist so the audience can giggle at their problems. The fatherís (directorís) condescension toward them makes the film feel mean-spirited. We are supposed to laugh at these genuinely ill patients, yet have sympathy when the protagonist suffers from similar mental problems. In this climate, emotional attachment to the events is completely impossible. The director heaps on many calculated musical cues just in case, however. Everything feels like a cheat. The film seems to simplify and restrain itself past the point where any drama is allowed to form. What is left barely qualifies as watchable. 


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman