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The Son's Room
cast: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Giuseppe Sanfelice, and Jasmine Trinca

director: Nanni Moretti

95 minutes (15) 2001 widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Emma French
Written and directed by Nanni Moretti, who also stars as the head of the family Giovanni, The Son's Room (aka: La Stanza Del Figlio), dealing with the death of a much-loved only son, is a stately and sensitive exploration of one of life's great tragedies. There are marvellously subtle performances by all four leads, but the women, mother (Laura Morante) and daughter (Jasmine Trinca), turn in the most impressive performances. The beautiful, expressive face of the distraught mother Paola becomes even lovelier in grief, and the netball playing daughter's quiet attempts to cope with loss are mesmerising. A hearty, naughty and fallible teenager (played by Giuseppe Sanfelice, in flashback) the absent son's face takes on a poignantly ethereal quality. Though as a normal father stricken by tragedy Moretti's performance is strong, scenes where, as a successful psychiatrist, he tries to deal with other people's crises are less successful, and rather larded with dramatic irony.
   It is difficult to watch this film without being moved to tears, particularly the scene in which Paola looks through her son's wardrobe after his drowning, almost too painful to watch in its sense of private, solitary desolation. The pale, wan lighting of the film suggests both a menacing cold and a new dawn at the same time. The apartment contrasts sharply with the slightly alienating city streets, with its kitchen forming the heart of the family and their activities. Occasionally the contrasts between the security of the familial interior and the big bad world outside are pointed up too sharply, particularly in the scenes where Giovanni goes jogging. Though the images of him hurtling through desolate industrial wasteland are memorable, it seems unlikely a middle class Italian fitness enthusiast would select a running route that resembles the outskirts of Bradford instead of the local park.
   When many films seek sensationalism at all costs, the decision to have the son's scuba diving death off camera is both brave and appropriate. Even more skilfully handled than the horrific aftermath of the death in hospital and funeral parlour are the scenes which show what movies rarely do - a long, slow journey into a semblance of normality, with all the blips and eccentricities that accompany the attempt to live through bereavement. Though at times there is a sense that, heightened by the palpable role of therapy in this film, the family is travelling through the steps of grief by numbers: rage, denial and so on, the script generally avoids easy formulae and pat solutions.
   This film's most striking achievement is its ability to end on a positive, life-affirming note that stresses the importance of love and family without any dishonesty or sentimentality. It has a laudable lightness of touch in dealing with the most difficult of experiences, and the simplicity of its plot and power of its acting also ensure that, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you simply forget you are watching a foreign language film after the first few minutes' adjustment to the subtitles. Outside the option of whether to have screen subtitles or not, the film lacks DVD extras, but this is not the type of Hollywood feature which needs to be fleshed out with expensive trappings. An unusually deserving recipient of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival, it is to be hoped this DVD release will expand the wide international audience The Son's Room gained on release in 2001.