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Video Essay. Broken Rhythm: Nanni Moretti's "The Son's Room"

Exploring the gestures and rhythms of the Italian director's Palme d'Or winner.
Adrian Martin, Cristina Álvarez López
The fifteenth entry in an on-going series of audiovisual essays by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin. MUBI will be showing Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room (2001) May 21 - June 20 in the United States.

A water polo celebrity who freezes inexplicably before firing between the goal posts (Palombella rossa, 1989). A newly elected Pope who finds himself unable to address the faithful masses from the Vatican balcony, and instead furtively flees into the streets (Habemus Papam, 2011). A film director who can no longer hold it together on set, as her mother lays dying in hospital (Mia madre, 2015). Nanni’s Moretti’s films often address urgent issues of personal blockage, panic, fear, grief, and especially life-sapping depression—always within the ever-widening, intersubjective circles of family, work, community, and society. His wisdom recalls that of the militant psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, who commented in the 1970s that genuine political change will only occur “from the moment when we no longer consider that the problems of fatigue, neurosis, delirium are only minor problems.” 
Sometimes dismissed—especially in this latter part of his career—as telemovie-style, bourgeois talk-fests, the real soul of Moretti’s movies is, in fact, below the immediate, surface level of character speech and interaction. His is a cinema of physical gestures, whether performed in flailing confusion, or in redemptive grace. And these gestures take place within what the sociologist Henri Lefebvre termed a rhythmanalysis of daily life: its routines and rituals, its flows and eddies. The drama, as well as the comedy, in Moretti’s films comes from a sudden breaking or freezing of this daily flow. It is this deeper level of gesture and rhythm, in both the image and sound design, that we attend to in our audiovisual essay Broken Rhythm, devoted to The Son’s Room (2001).
The great Mexican poet-essayist Octavio Paz once mused on how each person “is born several times and dies several times.” Paz sought, in all the art he loved, “the story of a resurrection”—what it means, and how it feels, to return to the Eden of everyday life after a necessarily dark episode or period. When Moretti’s central characters drive or kick a ball, when they dance or hum a tune, even when they simply drink a glass of water as in the immortal conclusion of Caro diario (1994), they are slowly finding their way back to this vital resurrection.


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