Cannes favorite Nanni Moretti explores loss in ‘My Mother’

CANNES, France (AP) — Director Nanni Moretti is pleased to hear that some audience members came out of “Mia Madre,” his new movie about a filmmaker whose mother is dying, and immediately called their own moms to say “I love you.”

“Every once in a while, movies do the right thing,” the director said during an interview in Cannes, where the film — “My Mother” in English — is competing for the Palme d’Or top prize.

The movie is a return to directly personal subject for the Italian Moretti after his last film, “We Have a Pope,” focused on a pontiff-elect who gets cold feet about the job. Moretti began work on “My Mother” after his own mother died in 2010.

The film stars Italian actress Margherita Buy as a filmmaker suffering professional and personal crisis. On set, her social-realist movie risks being derailed by a demanding American actor played by John Turturro, while at home, her elderly mother is growing increasingly ill.

Moretti is a Cannes mainstay who has brought more than half a dozen films to the festival. He won the Palme d’Or in 2001 for “The Son’s Room,” about a family devastated by the death of a teenage son.

“My Mother” offers his signature blend of pathos and humor in its depiction of two intense, complex relationships. The bond between mother and child is a source of sadness, while that between a controlling director and a prima donna actor provides much of the movie’s comedy.

Buy, who also appeared in “We have a Pope” and Moretti’s Silvio Berlusconi satire “The Cayman,” said she enjoyed her time in the fictional director’s chair.

“I had great fun mistreating actors for a while,” she said.

Buy and Turturro are far too polite to point out any similarities between the character and Moretti, a famously focused filmmaker who writes, directs and stars in his movies. He plays the brother of Buy’s character in “My Mother.”

“He was really challenging, and demanding — in a good way,” Turturro said.

Moretti says his attitude toward actors has evolved over the years.

“Maybe 30 years ago I didn’t feel the same empathy that I have now,” he said. “When I was younger, actors were just pieces of a game that could move. Now I feel closer to them.”

At its best, “My Mother” is deeply poignant, capturing the aching sense of loss that accompanies the death of a parent. Buy’s character learns that her mother had facets she never knew, when former students visit and talk about how much she meant to them. The same thing happened to Moretti after the death of his own mother — who, like the character in the film, was a Latin teacher.

“It was painful,” he said. “I discovered an essential part of her life that I really didn’t know anything about.”

“Sometimes you are so close to the people you love that you don’t get the whole picture,” he added.

“My Mother” is a favorite among the European critics at Cannes, where Moretti is one of three Italian directors in the main competition.

Whether or not he wins a second Palme d’Or, Moretti hopes the movie makes an impression on viewers.

“Films I like are those that stay with you after you’ve seen them,” he said. “They keep growing inside you. And I hope this film is one of those.”

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Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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