My Mother's Smile
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As with his feature debut, Fists in the Pocket , Marco Bellocchios My Mothers Smile was deemed blasphemous by the Roman Catholic Church for what the Church referred to as Bellocchios "systematic destruction of family and religious values." Contrary to the Churchs presumptions about Bellocchio, My Mothers Smile is a fascinating portrait of a man (Sergio Castellitto as Ernesto) who is forced to reconcile with his own atheism after receiving a shocking appeal from the Church requesting his participation in the canonization of his "saintly" mother.
The Church supports the claim that Ernestos mother held miraculous healing powers, but if she is going to be ordained, the Church needs to prove that her violent death, at the hands of the most unlikeliest person, culminated with a vow of forgiveness for her murderer. Ernestos relationship to the murderer provides the Church with its last chance of uncovering the truth, but he is reluctant to succumb to his familys pressure and schemes. Overwhelmed by the fact that he didnt sense the conspiracy beneath him, the conflicts haunting him come to the fore and his memory of his mother opens up a gaping chasm that forces him to reconsider the past and live the present differently.
My Mother's Smile, directed by Marco Bellochio (Fists in the Pocket) who is known for challenging Catholisms stronghold in Italian culture, tells the story of the making of a modern-day saint. Painter Ernesto Picciafuocco's (Sergio Castellitto) mother is about to be canonized, after papal hearings determine whether or not she forgave her other son, Egidio, while he was murdering her. Following the crime, family friend Fillipo Argenti is miraculously healed while thinking of her, solidifying her nomination. Ernesto, an atheist, considers supporting this falsity for the wellbeing and wealth of the family, and for his son, Leonardo, who has growing interest in Catholicism. Leonardo's mother, Irene (Jacqueline Lustig), separated from Ernesto, also urges him to comply with the Cardinal's process. Ernesto, torn between establishing the truth and satisfying his family, embarks on an arduous journey of self-investigation, reinforcing his beliefs that morality is based in honesty rather than on standards dictated by organized religion. Beautifully composed, and well written, My Mother's Smile offers a sophisticated view of sainthood, one acknowledging both its spiritual and political aspects. Ernesto's liberal-minded, philosophical approach to the topic makes heavy religion more palatable while emphasizing the Vatican's cultural influence on Rome. Extras include an interview with Sergio Castellitto, a conversation between Castellitto and Bellochio, and a mini-documentary, "A Day on the Set." --Trinie DaltonSee all Editorial Reviews
- Interview with director Marco Bellocchio
- Interview with actor Sergio Castellitto
- A Conversation between Bellocchio and Castellitto
- "A Day on the Set" featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
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they are quietly plotting with the Church to have his mother canonized
as a saint - mostly for personal gain and prestige - even though
there's great question as to how much the 'official' version of his
mother's life has been distorted and re-invented to help the cause.
There's something chilling, in a moody, David Lynch, Nic Roeg sort of
way about the handling of this nightmare scenario (the director calls
it 'a very strange thriller'), where a man is pressured to accept his
clearly flawed, cold, and distant mother as a saint 'for the good of
But along with it's skewering of people using religion to very
non-religious ends, there's also the pain and confusion of a man
without faith grasping to make sense of life, parenthood, and love.
There are some plot lines that lead nowhere, just leading to more
questions. Some of it gets a little Gothic, to the edge of silly, but
the performances, music and camera-work keep pulling you back in, and
haunting moments have stayed with me.
Painter Ernesto Picciafuocco's (Sergio Castellitto) is an atheist, separated from his wife Irene (Jacqueline Lustig) who has custody of his son. His son Leonardo (Alberto Mondini) has, for reasons unknown to Ernesto, become interested in religion and Irene informs Ernesto when he comes to pick up the child that he has been heard speaking to God. What follows this disclosure is a father/son sensitive discussion about Ernesto's atheism and his son's need to believe in an afterlife and a God. Disturbed by his son's state of mind, Ernesto is further challenged by a visit from a Vatican priest who informs Ernesto that his mother is about to be canonized! Ernesto is apparently the last to learn of this turn in family events (being an atheist) and discovers the family is pushing to have the canonization hurried in order to raise their status (and money) in Italy's social realm. Ernesto cannot comprehend why his mother should be made a saint as she has been less of a mother than most: her candidacy is based on the fact that as she was murdered by her own son Egidio (Donato Placido) she forgave him, making her a martyr. And apparently a family friend Filippo Argenti (Gianni Schicchi) prayed to the mother and was healed, making her a miracle worker! The family and the church need Ernesto's witness to the incidents for the canonization to be complete and it is here that the conflicts rise to the boiling point with a duel, a physical affair with a religion teacher, and confrontations between Ernesto and his brother Egidio and his family and the warriors of the church. Ernesto's liberal bent marks his journey of self-investigation that explores his morality and honesty by means of his art as he physically alters significant edifices of the old order of Rome into the deconstructed fantasies of his paintings.
Bellocchio frames his complex story with magnificent photography and a cast of actors who are not only credible in their roles but also create a sense of reality versus surrealism. Sergio Castellitto is brilliant as the tortured artist who must make a decision between his family's needs and his own belief system. The music that accompanies this film is composed by Riccardo Giagni who extrapolates curious but excellent excerpts from John Adams' "Harmonielehre", Vinicio Capossela's "Che cossè l'amor" from "Camera a sud", Gia Kancheli's "Psalm 23" from 'Exil', Aaron Jay Kernis's "Musica Celestis", and John Tavener's "... Depart in Peace" and "Tears of the Angels" - one of the more sophisticated musical scores on record.
MY MOTHER'S SMILE requires a lot from the viewer: to stay abreast with the many characters and to follow the maze of interactions takes a lot of concentration. But the overall effect of the film is one of great beauty and significant philosophical importance. Worth repeated viewings and highly recommended. In Italian with English subtitles. Grady Harp, June 06