There’s nothing really wrong with writer/director/star Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room, but neither is there anything all that special about it. It’s a small, well-intentioned study of a family coping with — and not coping with — the drowning death of the son. I enjoyed it well enough while it was onscreen. I even admired Moretti’s use of alternative “what if” scenarios. And I certainly found its depiction of a family affected by grief far more believable and effective than the strident dish-breaking, breast-beating of In the Bedroom. Indeed, in many ways, The Son’s Room plays like a more rational take on the same material, though that’s probably partly due to the lack of the melodramatic elements of murder and “the justice system has failed us” mechanics of In the Bedroom. Moretti’s intent is obviously quite different. He wants to explore and even celebrate the way in which his characters deal with the unexpected death of a family member and to do so in a reasonably subtle manner. That’s a noble ambition. The problem is that it’s not ultimately all that compelling. But it’s at least not open to the polar opposite interpretation that a film like In the Bedroom is (one wonders if the makers of In the Bedroom realize just how many people view that film’s revenge plot not as the hollow, destructive act they intended, but as a victory). I’m not even sure why it’s not the powerful film it ought to be, but it just isn’t. It’s perhaps a case of going to the well once too often, since the material is far from new and offers us precious little that we haven’t seen before. And, despite The Son’s Room’s many fine qualities, it’s the kind of import that might go almost unremarked upon were it not an import and coasting by on the vague feeling that a film is somehow magically more artistic if it has subtitles. (Are we really so insecure in our own culture that we automatically assume that foreign-language films are deeper and more artistic?) The Son’s Room is undeniably well-made and the performances are never less than good, with Moretti’s being rather more than that. It’s in Moretti’s favor that the film manages to remember that there is humor in even the grimmest of events. That’s not so surprising for a man who’s best known as a comedian, but it’s the sort of thing that helps make the film believable and human in a way that many “important” pictures are not. Still, I have to admit that the film rarely moved me and by the time I’d crossed the street from the Fine Arts, I was already thinking of other things, which is hardly a good sign. In the end, it’s an adequate film with obviously good intentions, but intentions only carry a thing so far. It’s not exactly a disappointment, but neither is it likely to excite anyone very much.
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