Sweet Dreams  (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Marco Bellocchio, Italy/France , 2016, 131mins, in Italian and French with subtitles

Cast:  Valerio Mastandrea, Barbara Ronchi, Bérénice Bejo, Dario Dal Pero, Nicolò Cabras ,

The film is adapted from an autobiographical novel by Massimo Gramellini about how his life was affected by the death of his beloved mother, when he was a nine year old child.

It is told in what appear to be a strangely almost random selection of episodes from Massimo’s life – in the sixties as a child and the nineties as an adult.  This randomness makes the story initially quite difficult to follow, as in the first time we cut abruptly from scenes of nine year old Massimo (Nicolò Cabras) with his mother  (Barbara Ronchi) to the adult Massimo (Valerio Mastandrea ) returning to his childhood home to clear it out and sell it.  There are few clues at this point that this is the little boy grown up.

Several of the subsequent and equally random seeming sequences from the past add little to our understanding of the character of adult Massimo, as in a scene where we see the boy, now in his early teens and played by Dario Dal Pero, with a childhood friend Enrico (Dylan Ferrario) and Enrico’s  mother (Emanuelle Devos).  Though  charming and interesting it  seems to be there to tell us that Enrico’s rather different relationship with his mum is poignantly emphasising Massimo’s loss.  But that point has already been rammed home by endless scenes of adult Massimo looking miserable and hangdog.

Also somewhat superfluous are scenes of Massimo as a war correspondent in Sarajevo, which again don’t really tell us much about him.  The character’s career journey is also a somewhat unlikely one, going from sports writer to war zone reporter and finally agony aunt.  At one point he is replying to a reader who is complaining about his relationship with his mum, where Massimo’s excessively sentimental reply, which almost sanctifies the mother role in a son’s life, really rubs our noses in Massimo’s somewhat unhealthy and excessive obsession and perhaps by implication the general mama complex of the Italian male.   As a result of all this it is difficult for the actor to gain the audience’s empathy for a character who is basically an irritatingly whining and immature man.

Bérénice Bejo as Massimo’s girlfriend Elisa, whom we are led to believe will be the saviour who will help him get his life together, has a somewhat underwritten role.  She doesn’t get a chance to make much of an impression.  Far stronger is Ronchi as the mother, whose presence haunts the entire film.  Massimo’s godmother, who has a very important final scene with a revelation the audience will have worked out for themselves by then, could have done with some stronger establishing scenes earlier on.  We have a problem remembering who she was as a young woman.

On the plus side the scenes of the relationship between the mother and child are particularly strong, convincing and rather moving, while the two young actors playing young Massimo as a child and then an adolescent are both truly beautiful, although little Cabras looks distinctly younger than nine.   The two boys are so beautiful in fact that grown up Massimo, who is not particularly good looking, is a bit of a disappointment in the looks department as well.  The film also has a convincing feel for Italy in the sixties, in terms of the clothes, furnishings and the awful television light entertainment shows of the period.    But at a length of well over two hours there is far too much time spent on superfluous material, while the hero stuck in his mother fixation is likely to come over to a non Italian audience at least as frankly a bit wet.

Review by Carol Allen