The Son’s Room concerns a family’s reaction to the tragic death of a teenaged son, a conflict also examined in the recent In the Bedroom. Both films have received critical acclaim and accolades (The Son’s Room won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes and is an Academy Award nominee for best foreign film; In the Bedroom, well, you know), and both movies unfold in a measured, deliberate manner (if you had trouble staying awake for In the Bedroom, you might want to skip this one; closing your eyes even for a second means missing subtitles). Even the boys in question are comparable; they’re both dazzlingly handsome young men whose sunny personalities shine at the center of their respective families. But despite the similarities, these two films are as far apart in the handling of their subject matter as the charming Italian village of one is from the blue-collar Maine fishing town of the other.
You’ll find none of In the Bedroom’s volatility here; no simmering family resentments, no festering animosities building steadily towards an explosion, no plots of revenge. Instead, there’s emotionally superbalanced psychoanalyst Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) and his exemplary family, which includes his beautiful wife, Paola (Laura Morante), his smart and athletic daughter, Irene (Jasmine Trinca) and, best of all, his sensitive and loving son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice). When tragedy strikes, this perfectly functional family must struggle with the greatest of family dysfunctions, each grappling with heartbreak in their own way. But theirs is a melancholy rather than a reactive journey; they are caught in a current of unending grief, colliding with obstacles with neither the energy nor the desire to fight back. When all seems hopeless, an unexpected letter from a mysterious stranger unites them, setting them on the road to recovery.
Director and star Moretti, famous in Italy for his quirky romantic comedies, has been called “the Italian Woody Allen,” and his inexperience with such heavy material is occasionally apparent. Because it lacks the fire of its American counterpart, The Son’s Room sometimes feels unfocused. But this meandering quality adds realism to the proceedings; an allusion to the shock the family is experiencing. Ultimately, Moretti has created a contemplative portrait of grief, effectively capturing the seemingly insurmountable nature of life after such a setback as well as the agony caused by the inescapable question “what if.”