Filmmaker, Heal Thyself

Distributor of both In the Bedroom and The Son's Room, Miramax has cornered the parental bereavement market. More wistful and less cathartic than its stablemate, The Son's Room similarly addresses the worst of all personal tragedies—the death of a child—albeit with a greater measure of tranquillity. It's a movie more to be prescribed than recommended—as visually bland as a dentist's waiting room, complete with soothing Muzak and a cushion of predictable narrative rhythms.

The Son's Room won the Palme d'Or last May in Cannes; before it is anything else, it is a film d'auteur. Writer-director-star (and European critical darling) Nanni Moretti has been conveniently designated as the Italian equivalent of Woody Allen, but both as a director and a generational icon, he's closer to Albert Brooks—not as funny but no less narcissistic. Here, of course, Moretti is mainly serious—for the first time and for the greater good. Like the father in In the Bedroom, his character is a doctor in a provincial seaside town: a psychoanalyst. He has a healthy practice, a comfy crib, an outstanding wardrobe, and a happy family—a chic, sexy wife with a model's cheekbones (Laura Morante) and two splendid teenage children.

Long day's journey into night: a child psychologist in Domestic Violence
photo: Domestic Violence Film, Inc. 2001
Long day's journey into night: a child psychologist in Domestic Violence


Domestic Violence
Directed by Frederick Wiseman
Film Forum
Through February 12

The Son's Room
Directed by Nanni Moretti
Written by Moretti, Linda Ferri, and Heidrun Schleef
Opens February 1

In his previous vehicles, Moretti has appeared as everything from an unhappy priest to an amnesiac Communist water-polo player to the beleaguered proprietor of a Roman movie house attempting to counter Disney with Kiarostami. In some respects, the role of shrink is perfectly suited to his bemused deadpan. Moretti uses a static two-shot to amusingly dramatize his stupefied reaction as an obsessive-compulsive patient tediously details her routine. It's humorous in part because it's so unfair. Moretti's own persona verges on the ob-com; the hoarse drone of his discourse could drill a hole in your head. Moretti's most endearing trait as a therapist is his cinephilia—this doctor sends his patients to see specific films and is curious to see the popular movies that his patients talk about (even though he already knows the plots).

Perhaps that's the point here. As filmmaking, The Son's Room gets off the couch and rises to its central event. A flurry of Kieslowski-like near-accidents involving other family members herald the son's fatal excursion even as they emphasize its random nature. (One indelible frozen moment: the daughter's smile of surprise when she unexpectedly sees her father, followed by her instant recognition that something terrible has happened.) The funeral rituals have an awful finality, not least for leaving everyone alone in grief. Organized religion offers no solace and, naturally, the tragedy has a considerable impact on Moretti's practice. It's a bit of a surprise that he doesn't check in with his own shrink—although he does consult a colleague regarding his anger at the cancer-diagnosed patient he saw on the afternoon of his son's accident.

Moretti's smugly benign attitude toward the band of Hare Krishnas who whirl by him in the opening scene presages the movie's ultimate note of mystical renunciation and reconciliation—not mourning but the "mourning process." A New Age on-the-beach closer, more divine lite than light, leaves the melancholy impression that The Son's Room may have less to do with life on earth than life in earth tones.

Related Article: "Shelter From the Storm: Frederick Wiseman Pulls the Curtain on Domestic Abuse" by Jessica Winter

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