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SON’S ROOM, THE (Stanza del figlio, La)(director/writer: Nanni Moretti; screenwriters: from an idea by Nanni Moretti/ Linda Ferri/Heidrun Schleef; cinematographer: Giuseppe Lanci; editor: Esmeralda Calabria; music: Nicola Piovani; cast: Nanni Moretti (Giovanni Sermondi), Laura Morante (Paola Sermondi ), Jasmine Trinca (Irene Sermondi ), Giuseppe Sanfelice (Andrea Sermondi ), Sofia Vigliar (Arianna), Renato Scarpa (Principal); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Angelo Barbagallo/Nanni Moretti; Miramax; 2001-Italy)
“The Son’s Room is a sob story that is too pat for my taste… “

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“The Son’s Room” is a sob story that is too pat for my taste but because of its real sorrow shown it affected the judges at Cannes so much, that it became the people’s choice and won the Palme d’Or. Nanni Moretti (“Caro Diario“), who is often compared to Woody Allen in his previous comic films, is the director, co-writer, co-producer, and star in this simplistically serious psychological drama. He shows more pain than the rest of his heavy-hearted affluent bourgeois family when an unexpected tragedy hits home. His clumsy acting nearly kills the film.

Giovanni Sermondi (Nanni Moretti) is a Freudian psychoanalyst with a thriving practice in the small town of Ancona, whose assortment of contrived quirky patients endlessly talk about their problems while on the couch. If the patients are being helped, it is difficult to say as Giovanni says so little and their problems seem to continue from one session to the next (I think the underlying joke on the filmmaker is that he doesn’t ever really get it that he’s a manipulative fraud in the story as well as in his filmmaking). He lives a very ordered and controlled life and has a very sober personality, as we first see him finish jogging and stare with amazement at a passing procession of chanting Hare Krishna worshipers who seem more liberated than him. He has an attractive and attentive wife in Paola (Laura Morante), and two lovely teenaged children — his bashful but playful son Andrea (Sanfelice) and the intense high school team basketball playing daughter Irene (Trinca).

The principal calls Giovanni and Andrea into his office because a fellow student squealed that he overheard Andrea and his friend admit to stealing a valuable fossil from the science room. Andrea denies this and the investigation of him ends due to no positive proof, but later he tells mom they took it as a joke but can’t return it because it accidentally got busted. Andrea feels uneasy about telling his dad this, but since they are going for a jog Sunday morning — he plans to tell him then. But one of his dad’s patients calls for an emergency session to tell him he was diagnosed with lung cancer (Moretti was once diagnosed with cancer) and his dad cancels the jog.

The film’s pivotal plotline is that Andrea drowns while scuba-diving in a cave (talking about heavy-handed Freudian symbols) looking for a replacement fossil. This fatal accident causes the close-knit family to lose their balance and grieve uncontrollably in isolation. Giovanni can’t work effectively any more with his patients, and is especially resentful of the patient who dragged him away from his son. He feels so guilt-stricken that he suspends his practice. Giovanni glumly goes to an amusement park and watches the fun-seekers. Paolo cries to herself when no one is around and doesn’t know how to act. Irene loses her concentration, and has a temper tantrum on the basketball court and gets ejected.

Quite unexpectedly a letter arrives from a girl named Arianna (Vigliar), whom Andrea met one day while on a camping trip in the country. Andrea never told the family about her, but the two seemed to connect and were looking forward to seeing each other again. Arianna’s youth and freshness works magic on the anguished family when they contact and eventually meet her. She shows dad snapshots Andrea had taken of himself in his room, which makes him laugh for the first time since the tragedy. It’s through her actions of letting go and going on with her life that allows the family to follow suit and release the grief that was stifling them. They start the healing process with a renewed spirit.

Sentimentality rules and puts a damper on a very real tragic family situation. I felt Nanni Moretti’s grief-stricken performance to be phony. But Laura Morante sparkles as the dazed mother. She is ready to go on with life while searching for answers as to why. There was one musical song that worked wonders — Brian Eno’s soft-rock “By This River.” Otherwise, the musical tracks in the background seemed trite.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”