- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

Film festival esteem for a movie does not necessarily mean a timely appearance for it on the American art-house circuit. Last year, "The Son's Room" won the Golden Palm, the top award at the annual Cannes Film Festival. It is tentatively scheduled to open locally March 1.

Nanni Moretti the Italian actor, writer and director who made this contemplative tear-jerker about the impact of a sudden death is an infrequent visitor to the United States, but in a promotional tour for the feature, acquired by Miramax Films, he spent a day in interviews at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown accompanied by a translator.

"The Son's Room" was still in contention for the Academy Awards at the time, since it had been chosen the official Italian selection. It failed to make the finals, although the inclusion of an Argentine picture titled "The Son of the Bride" suggests that the foreign language screening committee might have experienced a little confusion.

The Cannes Festival has been a fairly reliable showcase for Mr. Moretti throughout his career. He played a featured role in the 1976 winner of the Golden Palm, the Taviani Brothers' "Padre Padrone." He is the soldier who teaches Latin to the principal character, an illiterate Sardinian recruit. Mr. Moretti's first feature, "Ecce Bombo," completed two years later, was a finalist for the 1978 top prize.

Despite the Oscar oversight, "The Son's Room" has the consolation of three awards in the Italian movie industry's counterpart, the Donatello Awards for best movie, actress and musical score. It also won the "people's choice" category during the annual European Film Awards.

Americans who sample "The Son's Room" are likely to compare it to another Miramax acquisition, the Oscar contender "In the Bedroom." Mr. Moretti says he had heard about the plot resemblances, although he had not seen the American picture.

Mr. Moretti cast himself in the movie as a conscientious, introspective psychoanalyst named Giovanni, who maintains a private practice in the city of Ancona, on the Adriatic Sea. His wife, Paola, played by Laura Morante, is a book editor. The couple have two attractive teen-agers, Irene (Jasmine Trinca) and Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice).

Giovanni disrupts a seemingly normal weekend when he cancels an outing with his family to calm a jittery patient who importunes him for a house call. During his absence, the family is stricken by an accident. The incident leaves the survivors in mourning for the duration of the story, which endeavors to depict profound loss in a straightforward, unemphatic way that enhances emotion by making a virtue of banality and restraint.

The prospect of lasting recovery and consolation is associated with an unexpected opportunity to be useful to some young travelers. Giovanni and Paola spend a long night as chauffeurs, ferrying their guests from Ancona to the French Riviera. By the morning, their loss has become easier to bear.

Mr. Moretti, born in 1953 and a lifelong resident of Rome, says he was attracted to Ancona by its relative unfamiliarity as a movie location.

"I had made all my films in Rome," he says, "and viewed it from all possible angles. I also wanted to place this story in the context of a smaller town [it has a population of about 100,000], to suggest a more plausible sense of community. It would be easier for people to know this family and their tragedy."

It also gave him seascapes that served as both practical and poetic elements in the script.

Why did he envision this bereft father as a psychoanalyst?

"First of all, I just felt like writing about one. I had never played one. I also wanted the character to be a man who was close to other people's suffering every day. Then, all of a sudden, he is struck by the sharpest pain himself," Mr. Moretti says.

The filmmaker had several social friends who advised him about their practices. "I consulted some analysts while I was writing the screenplay," Mr. Moretti says, "and I got their permission to sit in on some therapy sessions. That was mainly to become familiar with the details of such meetings."

Mr. Moretti, who is the father of a 5-year-old son, survived a brush with death about a decade ago when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. He dramatized certain aspects of this crisis in a 1995 feature called "Dear Diary," which played for a brief time in the Washington area.

For the most part, his characteristic work remains obscure in this country. Urban social comedy is his specialty.

"Nothing in this film is straight from my life," Mr. Moretti says. "I just wanted to treat something in a realistic way that movies usually treat in a very exaggerated or crude or spectacular way. It was a long time in gestation. I didn't want to make something that would impose obvious emotions on the viewer. I wanted to get closer to sharing emotions.

"When you have experienced a serious disease, people may give you credit for more wisdom than you possess. … I don't know if I changed at all because I survived a cancer operation."

Mr. Moretti had a malignant tumor removed from his chest. He underwent chemotherapy treatments after the operation, and the cancer remains in remission.

"I've never been afraid of dying," he says. "I was spared the luxury by a wrong diagnosis. For about 10 months, I believed I was suffering from a skin disease, and that did depress me. Then the correct diagnosis was made and I was in the operating room 48 hours later."

Weighing his answers seems to be second nature with Mr. Moretti. He takes longer than usual to evaluate a question about the difference between "The Son's Room" and his earlier pictures.

"I am not quite the same performer I was before the medical crisis," he acknowledges. "I think my characters are more adult. I had created this popular figure called Michele, who was a lot more intolerant and feisty than I am now. He regarded himself as a kind of artistic director of the private lives of his friends. It was difficult for him to accept the fact that other people were different from the way he wanted them to be. There were always inventions, but the basic personality was similar to myself."

Mr. Moretti wasn't conscious of Woody Allen affinities as the Michele figure evolved through half a dozen comedies, but he believes that Italian moviegoers and critics were influenced by a couple of factors. "One, he interprets the movie as it's unfolding," the filmmaker explains of the character. "He also has a tendency to tell his life, his world and to make fun of it."

Although the paths of Mr. Allen and Mr. Moretti never have crossed, Mr. Moretti emphasizes some dissimilarities. "Woody Allen has also made several movies that take place in the past," he says. "All my films have been tied to the present. I am also unable to do like Woody Allen and make a new film every year."

Mr. Moretti indicates that he has retired his Michele character for good.

"Perhaps I will direct a movie in which I'm not acting," he says. "I have acted for other directors, but I have never directed a film in which I did not have a role. I think it would be interesting to do that and see how it changes my relationship to the medium."

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