- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

"The Son's Room" approaches the impact of a sudden death in a family with exceptional, and largely admirable, restraint.
The winner of the Golden Palm at last year's Cannes Film Festival, this Italian import commands more respect in moral terms than the current, prestigious American feature about a bereft mother and father, "In the Bedroom."
Nanni Moretti, the director, co-writer and leading man of "The Son's Room," keeps the loss and its demoralizing aftermath within the realms of likelihood.
A concluding episode returns to the disarming tone of Mr. Moretti's initial scene-setting in Ancona, Italy, when the prospect of tragedy seems as unlikely as it does to most families on an ordinary day. A serendipitous opportunity to be hospitable expands into something far more ambitious and comforting for the grieving family members. They offer some strangers a ride, which turns into an uplifting gesture for the hosts themselves and a scenic grace note for the movie.
The determination to evoke tender feelings the hard way in "The Son's Room" hits a few snags, however. The most conspicuous one is Mr. Moretti's performance, which sometimes teeters on the verge of lackluster.
Mr. Moretti, a fixture of Italian topical comedies that have caused him to be compared to Woody Allen by fond compatriots, is pretty much a stranger to American art-house patrons. His looks recall Michael Gross during his years as the father on "Family Ties," but Mr. Moretti's Giovanni, a psychiatrist with a private practice in Ancona, isn't nearly as chipper or responsive.
Indeed, there are times when you suspect that the analyst may be more sedated than his patients.
A sequence introduces us to seven or eight of Giovanni's regulars. These patients represent a cross-section of personality types, and they seem to exist as a sideshow for us.
One of the more demanding patients, Oscar, plays an unwitting role in the calamity destined to haunt Giovanni and his family. Giovanni's book-editor wife is Paola (Laura Morante), and the couple have two attractive teen-age children, Irene (Jasmine Trinca) and Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice).
Giovanni looks forward to an outing with the family, but he reluctantly cancels after Oscar pleads for an emergency consultation. After returning from this unwelcome house call, Giovanni discovers that the day has turned cruel. One of his children has died in a diving accident. Subsequent episodes depict the efforts of the survivors to muddle through the public demands of grief without taking out their feelings on one another.
Giovanni is especially conscious of how he might have averted the tragedy by ignoring Oscar's plea and spending the fateful day as originally planned. Eventually, he decides that quitting his practice is imperative.
The marriage becomes strained to a breaking point. A flurry of false hope animates Paola when she learns that Andrea may have had a romance they didn't know about. Her impulsive attempts to contact the girl in question backfire.
Just when the grief appears to be getting the better of everyone, a source of decisive consolation comes calling.
Having edged the characters toward a domestic brink, Mr. Moretti and the writers ease off and earn your gratitude with a generous and eloquent sign-off.
"The Son's Room" is playing at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

TITLE: "The Son's Room"
RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor; thematic material dealing with family tragedy and emotional conflict)
CREDITS: Directed by Nanni Moretti (in Italian with English subtitles)
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

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