It is largely a study of Margherita’s life. She is a woman who has made a successful career in a man’s world but whose personal life is in crisis, as she deals with her relationship with Ada, her mother (Lazzarini), with the support of her brother Giovanni (Moretti), who along with Ada knows her better than anyone. The story also touches on her two failed marriages and her conflicts with her teenage daughter, nicely played by Beatrice Mancini.
Then there are the issues she is facing in her work life – the loneliness of being the film’s director, having to make all the decisions alone and the frustration for her with regard to the one thing she can’t direct and control, which is real life and death.
The film making aspect of the story is enlivened by a deliciously comic performance from Torturro as Barry, the American film star, who has been brought in to play the lead. He has a massive ego, tells bad jokes and fairy tales about his days working with Stanley Kubrick and has an amusingly dodgy grasp of Italian. He is also at heart vulnerable and insecure.
Lazzarini as the mother spends much of the film in a hospital bed being forced into a passive role, while her adult children make all the decisions and hide the seriousness of her condition from her. Moretti keeps from us until quite late in the film the fact that Ada, now rendered helpless, is also a strong and successful woman, an academic specialist in Latin language and culture, who is greatly loved by her former students.
The flashbacks and flash forwards in the film are sometimes a touch confusing but this is otherwise a strong human story very well told. Deceptively straightforward yet actually complex, it is never sentimental but is very moving, particularly towards the end as Ada, Margherita and Giovanni are forced to accept the inevitability of death.
Review by Carol Allen