Review: Marghe and Her Mother
by Camillo De Marco
- Shot in Basilicata, in the Italian language, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s latest work takes a look at Generation Z, but it lacks the urgency of the Iranian director’s previous films
From the streets of Tehran, to the hills of Afghanistan and on to the rocks of Basilicata, the unstoppable Mohsen Makhmalbaf is offering up another of his participatory films on human nature. Five years on from his previous work, The President [+see also:
interview: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
film profile], which opened the Venice Film Festival in 2014 alongside Birdman, the 62-year-old Persian maestro is giving us Marghe and Her Mother [+see also:
film profile], screened at the Bosphorus International Film Festival. Shot in Matera and in other locations along the Basilicata-Calabria border, this little film marks another shift in Makhmalbaf’s thematic objectives, which sees the director leave behind the ferocious critiquing of dictatorships and the decoding of the Arab Spring which characterised The President, to instead turn his attention to the aberrations of liquid modernity and the plight of Generation Z: “total flexibility without the nostalgia for solidity”, to borrow the words of Zygmunt Bauman.
Shot in Italian in a region caught between modernity and archaic traditions - reminiscent of Iran or, indeed, any other land where the collision between these two worlds is most keenly felt - Marghe and Her Mother is a story about failure within the social system and the renunciation of identity values. Claudia and Giulia (Ylenia Galtieri and Raffaella Gallo) are two friends and two very young mothers - just 22 years of age – who’ve been abandoned by their respective partners and who are continually on the look-out for a job which will allow them and their daughters to continue living the meagre life they’ve become accustomed to. Margherita, or Marghe (Margherita Pantaleo), as per the title, is a very intelligent child upon whom the Tehran director and his co-screenwriter wife Marziyeh Meshkini bestow a level of wisdom and ability to reason that so acute, she almost comes across as a symbolic figure (easily associated with a future generation in whom society can place its hopes). In a rather evocative scene, Marghe climbs up to the tower of the Church of Santa Maria di Idris and rings the bells while looking out across a city which appears to be sleeping, or worse, seems dead.
Having fallen into the usual trap of a fake casting call for a film, Claudia and Giulia meet two boys (Paolo C. Santeramo, Danilo Acinapura) who are struggling with the same problem: finding a job. They try to find a solution and come up with a bad idea: stealing puppies in order to ask for a ransom. Margherita is entrusted to the care of a highly devoted neighbour who surrounds herself with statues of the Virgin Mary, and we soon see her dissecting the likelihood of God’s existence with the other children. The dognapping foursome, meanwhile, find themselves the focus of the local police force and, at this point, the story takes an autobiographical turn: during the reign of the hated Shah, Makhmalbaf was part of an underground Islamic group and, at 17 years old, he ended up in prison for attacking a policeman, an episode which informed one of the director’s most intense works, A Moment of Innocence, released in 1996.
The acting abilities of the film’s protagonists are minimal to say the least, but the use of non-professional actors is part and parcel of the poetics of auteur Iranian cinema, and of that produced by Makhmalbaf, in particular, as is the tendency to turn to child actors and to reflect on social issues affecting humble people. Marziyeh Meshkini’s co-writing, meanwhile, adds a strong element of “sisterhood” to the film, and the moral link with Italian neorealism remains strong. But in Marghe and Her Mother, we don’t feel the same urgency that was true of the director’s previous works, the dramatic force of the film’s themes petering out in the midst of overly long, artificial situations, dialogue which lacks credibility and an ambiguous and unexplained reference to the Catholic religion as a refuge for those who have lost hope.
Marghe and Her Mother was produced by Makhmalbaf Film House, led by Mohsen’s son Maysam Makhmalbaf, in co-production with Italian firm Allelammie, the Matera-Basilicata Foundation 2019 and RAI Cinema, in association with the Lucana Film Commission.
(Translated from Italian)
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