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With: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca, Giuseppe Sanfelice, Sofia Vigliar
Written by: Nanni Moretti, Linda Ferri, Heidrun Schleef
Directed by: Nanni Moretti
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 99
Date: 03/09/2001

The Son's Room (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The 'Son' Also Sets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti usually makes films about himself -- funny little essay-ish works like Caro Diario, April and the short film Opening Day of Close-Up. He's almost a Woody Allen type, fretting and fussing and playing his neuroses for laughs.

So when he took such a radical departure for his newest film The Son's Room -- and especially when the film won the top prize (the Palm d'Or) at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival -- it seemed like a desperate scrape for credibility and sentiment.

But that fear turns out to be unfounded. The Son's Room happily stays close to the ground in a spare and simple manner and doesn't pummel us with phony imagery or music.

As you may have heard, The Son's Room pulls an In the Bedroom and deals directly with the death of a child. Moretti plays his usual neurotic character, this time a psychiatrist named Giovanni who doesn't seem passionate about his work. But he loves his family: his wife Paola (Laura Morante), teenage son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) and daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca), and they like him. But -- like any family -- they tend to get on each other's nerves.

One Sunday morning, Giovanni plans to go running with Andrea but is interrupted by a call from one of his patients. While Giovanni goes off to work, Andrea goes diving instead and suffers a fatal accident. The family goes through the expected shock and sadness, followed by a somber funeral.

When the dust settles, Giovanni begins to imagine what would have happened if he hadn't answered that call, if he had gone running with his son instead. Perhaps things would have turned out better. Giovanni begins to blame the patient who called and finds his mind wandering during their subsequent sessions together.

Later Giovanni becomes interested in a love letter sent to Andrea by Arianna (Sofia Vigliar), a girl he met at camp -- a girl who didn't know about Andrea's death. The family invites her over, which makes for an awkward visit, but it ultimately leads to an unexpectedly sunny, hopeful conclusion.

Co-written by Moretti, Linda Ferri and Heidrun Schleef, The Son's Room stays rather small and quiet for its running time. It doesn't take risky dives into despair like In the Bedroom does with its stunning argument between the grieving parents.

At the same time, clinging to this rational control keeps The Son's Room from coming gloriously unhinged. While looking for someone to blame, Moretti never asks himself, "What do I do now?" -- he never faces the uncomfortable truth, as In the Bedroom does.

That's not saying that Moretti's way of dealing with grief is wrong. In some ways, The Son's Room is even more poignant than In the Bedroom. While Giovanni doesn't experience a catharsis like his Bedroom counterparts, he and his family do manage to emerge from their personal hell with a hopeful eye toward the future.

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