Nothing is worse for a parent than having to bury one’s own child. Perhaps that fear is particularly strong in director Nanni Moretti who allegedly came up with the idea for this film when his child was born. The very family-oriented Italian crowds ate this movie up and it also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes festival. It was just as powerful in its depiction of parental grief as the same year’s In the Bedroom.
The affluent Sermonti family is relatively happy. Giovanni (Moretti) is a psychoanalyst who’s married to Paola (Laura Morante); the couple has two teenage children, Irene (Jasmine Trinca) and Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice). Every family has its problems, but they are not very serious in this one. Giovanni is somewhat bored; sitting all day listening to his tiresome patients talk about their mental hiccups is taking a toll. Andrea is accused of stealing a fossil at school and seems a little too contemplative for a teenager, but he’s doing alright and his relationship with the other members of the family is very healthy indeed.
But then comes the horrible day when the boy goes out scuba diving with his buddies and dies in an accident. The Sermontis are about to face the greatest challenge of their lives.
Different facets of grief
Moretti knows how to depict all facets of grief. There’s the kind that comes in the very beginning, the immediate, gut-wrenching, painful one. Then comes the part where you pick up the pieces, go back to work, take care of your home and family, but suffer from a depression punctuated by sudden crying outbursts. There’s also the constant mulling over what could have been done differently to avoid the accident. And there’s also the problem of dealing with the loss together with the others in the family who are equally mournful but might handle grief differently.
Giovanni is a nice man who goes back to work and does his best to help the patients, but their problems look even more ridiculous and selfish compared to what their psychoanalyst is going through. Giovanni is also becoming more resentful toward the patient who talked him into visiting him on the day that Andrea died; the father and the son had to cancel their plans and the boy went diving instead. Eventually, the family finds it harder to deal with the crisis but relief is on its way and the movie ends on a positive note. We don’t know for sure, but we get the feeling that the family found a way to say goodbye and can now begin to heal.
Director Moretti previously made Caro Diario (1994) where he portrayed his own struggle with cancer, not without a certain sense of humor. The Son’s Room is more somber, although Giovanni’s encounters with some of his patients are quite humorous. Moretti finds an excellent structure for his story, one that makes sure the audience grows very sympathetic toward the family. The director is not one of Italy’s finest actors, but he’s quite effective here and he’s aided by Morante’s heartbreaking performance as the wife. Nicola Piovani’s score adds to the emotional weight of the film.
It’s not a long movie, but it feels longer (in a good way). There’s a lot of substance here and it lies in the credibility of the emotions. Perhaps the reason why Moretti felt obliged to make this movie after becoming a dad was to disarm that greatest fear of any parent. Most of them won’t have to bury their child. But those who do might see this film and realize that one death does not warrant the end of everything else that’s good.
The Son’s Room 2001-Italy-France. 87 min. Color. Produced by Nanni Moretti, Angelo Barbagallo. Directed by Nanni Moretti. Screenplay: Nanni Moretti, Linda Ferri, Heidrun Schleef. Music: Nicola Piovani. Cast: Nanni Moretti (Giovanni Sermonti), Laura Morante (Paola Sermonti), Jasmine Trinca (Irene Sermonti), Giuseppe Sanfelice, Silvio Orlando, Claudia Della Seta.
Trivia: Original title: La stanza del figlio.
Cannes: Palme d’Or.
Last word: “I have never undergone therapy, though over the years many friends have had the experience. Some have had to stop after a very short time because they felt it wasn’t at all helpful. But I think it’s fine if one is fortunate and one finds an analyst who is good, and right for oneself. In ‘The Son’s Room’, many of the patients were inspired by real cases I’d read about in magazines, following which I contacted analysts to check the possibilities of changing the details in some respects.” (Moretti, The Independent)