The Son's Room

 
Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford 

Psychiatrist Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) has a successful practice and a wonderful family including his beautiful wife Paola (Laura Morante), athletic daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca) and bright, lively son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice). One day, as Giovanni and Andrea plan to go out for a jog, the phone rings and, soon, the happy life they all knew is shattered to pieces in "The Son's Room."

Robin:
Helmer/co-scripter Nanni Moretti, known as "Italy's Woody Allen" for his whimsical studies into modern neuroses, takes a serious turn with "The Son's Room." Things start out on an off-key note when Giovanni is called to his son's school to meet with the principal. When he gets there, he finds that Andrea and his best friend have been called to the carpet for the theft of a stone fossil. The boys denies the theft and are confronted with an eyewitness account by another student. Giovanni gets to the bottom of things and learns that the "witness" never actually saw the stolen item.

With the minor crisis put behind, life goes back to normal and dad calmly and serenely continues to treat his psychologically impaired patients. One of his most troubled clients, Oscar (Silvio Orlando), requires Giovanni's attention above and beyond the office visits. On one Sunday morning, when the doctor is planning to have a run with his son and take the family to the movies later, Oscar calls Giovanni at home. This fateful phone call triggers events that will blow apart the happy family life and opens a floodgate of questions in Giovanni's mind: What if he didn't answer the phone? What if he refused to see his patient? Who is to blame?

The events of that day plague the doctor as he continues to treat his patients, especially Oscar. Where Giovanni was previously the soul of understanding for his patients, he has now taken on a cynical attitude that is counterproductive to their care. Family life, too, suffers as each member becomes introspective and isolated in his or her grief until a letter arrives addressed to Andrea from a girl he met on holiday before that black Sunday. The girl, Arianna (Sophia Vigliar), when they all finally meet, becomes the catalyst for the family's recovery.

As I get along in years I am becoming more and more emotionally impacted by personal events, including getting choked up at a movie. The subject matter of loss and loneliness in "The Son's Room" should have moved me to tears, but it didn't. In fact, I found Moretti's screenplay (with Linda Ferri and Heidrun Schleef) to be coldly clinical as it dissects the family's tragedy and shows its impact on each member. Where I should have empathized, even sympathized, with the characters and their loss, I felt at arm's length to them. Instead of wanting to embrace the characters and their suffering, I felt like a detached observer, not really caring about the players' plights.

Moretti won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year for "The Son's Room" and it was Italy's official submission for the foreign language Oscar (not selected). It is a well-crafted, though simple work that tells its story of grief with efficiency but not with a great deal of heart. The journey the family takes down the road to recovery is satisfying, intellectually, but not so emotionally for me, the viewer. I give it a B-.

Laura:
Giovanni (writer/director Nanni Moretti, "Caro Diario") has a successful psychiatric practice and almost blissful family life in an Italian coastal town.  But a phone call from a suicidal patient during a Sunday breakfast irrevocably alters Giovanni's life in this year's Cannes Palme d'Or winner "The Son's Room."

Moretti, known for comedy, ventures into drama and an exploration of grief with "The Son's Room."  While not as aggressively impressive as its American counterpart, "In the Bedroom," Moretti's film makes its own, quieter observations.

The film begins as Giovanni spies a group of Hare Krishnas from his perch inside a cafe (the windows of small shops and businesses seem a constant in Moretti's films).  His generally joyous state is reflected by his delight in the groups' chanting, which he continues to hum as he enters his apartment.

This family still gathers at mealtime.  As Paola (Laura Morante) prepares dinner, she and teenage daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca) discuss the most satisfying sounds to be found in various sports.  Son Andrea's suspension from school on suspicion of a fossil specimen theft causes some minor discord, but a series of meetings gains his absolution (he later confesses to mom that the theft was a prank gone wrong, but doesn't tell dad so as not to ripple his calm existence).

Giovanni spends his days tending to a series of patients, some, like suicidal Oscar and a potential sex criminal, who engage his interest and others, an obsessive housewife and accusatory gabber, who bore him.  Suddenly, though, 'Physician heal thyself' is in order ("In the Bedroom's" father was also a doctor) when he returns home to discover his son never will.

Moretti takes us through every phase of grief as experienced by Giovanni. Numbness is followed by an attempt to jolt his senses, which he literally tries via a carnival ride, his solitude in sharp contrast to the gaiety of the crowd.  He tries to throw himself into work while resenting his wife's decision to stay away from the office.  He turns blame towards himself for changing his plans with his son and towards the patient who caused him to do so.  The pleasant sounds of sports and Hari Krishna segue to the shrill buzz of a drill closing a coffin and the mournful music Giovanni repeats over and over, jogging a memory.  The three remaining family members only ever find themselves in the kitchen alone.

Moretti's film fails to inspire much heartbreak in its midsection and a visually flat look and insipid interiors further dull its impact but his mode of redemption is a marvel.  A letter from an unknown young girl, Arianna (Sofia Vigliar), begins a chain of events that mysteriously bring back the joy to be found in life.

"The Son's Room" reminds us that while life can take devastating detours, the struggle back to the main road can be a cathartic trip.

B

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