Nanni Moretti is best known in this country as the oddball hero touring Rome on his scooter in the wry, witty Dear Diary. Which means the writer/ director/actor's latest film may come as a shock, because The Son's Room is one of the most heart-breaking depictions of family crisis and grief you'll ever see.
The tale is simple. Moretti plays a successful psychiatrist, Giovanni, with a happy family. Then his son dies in a diving accident. And in the aftermath, as the family struggle to come to terms with their loss, life threatens to fall apart.
This could easily have been just another family melodrama of the sort Hollywood routinely churns out. The reason it isn't can be summed up in one word: subtlety. Moretti avoids the saccharine devices of most tear-jerkers, telling his story with a freshness and quiet intensity that hooks you, draws you in and keeps you twitching on the line `til the very end.
Having carefully introduced his serene, small-town family, he almost casually delivers the untimely death. Thereafter the film is an essay in grief. While Giovanni curses fate and becomes increasingly angry, his wife Paola (Laura Morante) and teenage daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca) react differently - the problem being they can't grieve together.
The film teems with originality and detail. Instead of a clichéd moment when everyone hugs and cries to the heavens, we see only Giovanni's face before he breaks the news; instead of tears at the graveside, there's a painfully long scene in which the boy's coffin is sealed as the family look on. There are few histrionics, but as Giovanni has to sit listening to his patients babble on, while he's dying inside, you can't help but be moved.
Moretti may not hand out hankies with the popcorn, Hollywood-style, but his film has real emotional weight. A hot Oscar contender for Best Foreign Film.