In Marco Bellocchio’s My Mother’s Smile, painter and proud atheist Ernesto (Sergio Castellitto) learns that the Vatican hopes to canonize his mother, murdered years earlier by his mentally-ill brother. While it has courted controversy in its native Italy, My Mother’s Smile is at once a subtle observation of religious hypocrisy and an indictment of its main character’s moral uncertainty. Ernesto must deal with the calculated attempts of his family and friends to lure him into the process of winning his mother’s beatification. (A mysterious young woman who claims to be his son’s religion teacher is the film’s false prophet and angelic center.) Hungry for the fame the woman’s martyrdom would bring to the family, Ernesto’s aunt rallies for his support. Equally hungry for a saint is the Vatican. At stake here is whether Ernesto’s brother killed their mother in her sleep; according to the Vatican, the woman can only be canonized if she forgave her son right before he stabbed her in the heart. Bellocchio is profoundly fascinated with the cultural rifts between generations and the amount of deceit it requires for the dead to become saints. Curiously, Ernesto may be the film’s true monster; indeed, his hatred for his mother is both heartbreaking and strangely ironic (he loathed her because of her simplicity and moral complacency). The man’s strange experiences (a commercial photo op, a surreal religious gathering) bring to mind Tom Cruise’s road to fidelity in Eyes Wide Shut, but set to Italian opera. Bellocchio has a way of spelling everything out for the audience; nonetheless, the film’s intelligence is provocative and playful.
- New Yorker Films
- 103 min
- Marco Bellocchio
- Marco Bellocchio
- Sergio Castellitto, Maurizio Donadoni, Piera Degli Esposti, Toni Bertorelli, Alberto Mondini, Jacqueline Lustig, Gianni Schicchi, Chiara Conti
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