In Laura Bispuri’s Daughter of Mine, Tina (Valeria Golino) and Umberto (Michele Carboni) lead a seemingly happy life in rural Italy with their young daughter, Vittoria (Sara Casu). Family evenings consist of sharing a hearty meal, making sure Vittoria cleans her feet before bed, and mother and daughter watching their nightly soap opera in each other’s arms. That is, until Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), Vittoria’s biological mother, comes knocking. The woman spends her days falling over drunk at bars and begging random men to buy her drinks, and she’s here to announce that she’s going to move away due to financial woes, which have brought her to the brink of eviction. But before she leaves, she has a request: She would like a visit from Vittoria, who doesn’t know that Angelica is her birth mother.
Tina decides to grant Angelica her wish, worried that if she doesn’t then Angelica will reveal her secret, but hoping it will mean that Angelica vanishes for good. The trouble is that Vittoria takes a liking to Angelica even before she’s consciously aware of their biological bond. Their first encounter awakes something in the little girl. Perhaps it’s a kind of identification, or fascination, with Angelica’s unapologetic ways. Besides physically looking just like Vittoria, Angelica is everything Tina isn’t: spontaneous, shameless, and free, not to mention immune to the anxieties of domestic life. She spits, sings loudly, and dances like crazy while barefooted. In one memorable scene, Vittoria even joins Angelica in her madness, singing and dancing outside to an Italian pop song that wafts from Angelica’s pickup truck.
That moment is reminiscent of the refreshing kinship between a queer child and her ally of a grandmother, also staged through impromptu choreography and singalong, in Alain Berliner’s My Life in Pink, another film about motherhood’s propensity for cruel selfishness. In Berliner’s film, the supposedly unconditional love of a mother is only in display in the figure of the crazy grandmother, as the biological mother chooses to save face vis-à-vis her neighbors over her child’s welfare for most of the film. In Daughter of Mine, Tina is also more interested in how Vittoria can soothe her egotistical needs for a picture-perfect family life than finding a setup that would make the child happier. Both films reveal a mother’s allegedly unconditional love to either be missing or violently misplaced precisely when it’s most needed. When the child is at her most vulnerable, at her most human, she seems to turn into a possession or a pawn.
Unlike My Life in Pink, Daughter of Mine sidesteps all ambiguity, as the film reveals everything about its characters straight away, leaving little room for unexpected complexities about their predicaments to develop. Bispuri insistently stages the most obvious aspects of her drama, pitting Tina and Angelica against each other without taking the time to truly explore the child’s conflicted feelings toward her mother(s). Instead of spending time with Vitoria, Daughter of Mine establishes each mother as the polar opposite of the other—Tina as too controlling and Angelica as uncontrollable—and then proceeds to re-hash their essential difference over and over. This logic, devoid of subtlety and of a child’s perspective, culminates in a sequence where Tina essentially takes her 10-year-old child to a bar only so she can witness Angelica giving head to a stranger, as if to guarantee her daughter’s presence, if not love, through trauma. “Look at her,” Tina says. “A drunkard, just a poor whore.”