Mia Madre, Deepwater Horizon

by / Sep. 28, 2016 12am EST

In the 1980s and 1990s, before it became the almost impenetrable colossus it is today, the Toronto International Film Festival regularly had a sidebar spotlighting the work of an up-and-coming international filmmaker. It was a great way to discover new auteurs with a crash course in their work to date. That was how I first discovered the films of Italy’s Nanni Moretti in 1993. At the time he was known in Italy as fiercely independent maker of political satires, beginning to move into more personal territory: That year’s Caro Diario (Dear Diary) was his first to receive international distribution.

Over the years Moretti has moved between the two. He has satirized Berlusconi (The Caiman, 2006) and the institution of the papacy (We Have a Pope, 2011), but his biggest successes have been his emotional dramas, including The Son’s Room (2001, the last film of his to be screened in Buffalo) and now Mia Madre, which swept the Italian film awards last year, including best film, actress, director, and screenplay.

Margherita Buy stars as Margherita, a film director currently working on a movie about factory workers who strike to protest the austerity plans of their new owner. As she tries to hold production together, her personal life is in shambles. She has just broken up with her partner, her teenage daughter is pulling away from her, and doctors tell her that her hospitalized mother doesn’t have long to live.

The interplay between reality and film, arguably the art that best mimics the real world, has always been of interest to Moretti. But while his concerns are serious, his touch is always light, with humor never far from the surface. John Turturro co-stars in what at first appears to be comic relief, a pompous American movie star hired to appear in Margherita’s film, but his concerns operate as a sort of funhouse reflection of hers. Moretti plays Margherita’s brother, who is also struggling with the impending loss of their mother.

Mia Madre moves easily between the present tense, memories, and dreams to engage us with Margherita’s uncertain relation to her life and labor. Moretti’s touch is so sure that the movie often seems to be less than it is, but by the time it’s over you might be surprised to find how much it has affected you.


Deepwater Horizon is a big-budget disaster epic about the April 2010 explosion at the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in which 11 men were killed. As directed by Peter Berg, the film is exciting and filled with special effects and likeable characters (led by Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell) whom you root for to survive the chaos. It’s exciting stuff if you enjoy that kind of thing.

It’s also a whitewash of astonishing proportions. The death of 11 men is undeniably tragic, but the movie utterly fails even to mention the most significant aspect of the incident, the 200 million gallons of oil that spilled into the Gulf over a period of three months, doing incalculable damage to one of the most fragile parts of the country’s ecology. On has to wonder if British Petroleum, which last year agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, exercised pressure over the production to keep that part of the story off the screen. At any rate, it’s a huge disservice to history.