John Turturro just delivered one of the great performances of his career, playing the eczema-plagued, precinct-trawling lawyer in HBO’s riveting “The Night Of.”
As a knee-jerk plea-bargainer who experiences a crisis of conscience (he discovers he has one), Turturro’s character is disheveled, street-smart, eager for the $250 a pop he gets to rep dealers, prostitutes, thieves. He wears sandals to let his inflamed extremities breathe, poking a chopstick between his toes to alleviate the pain . . . and then he goes and tries to save the skin of a college student accused of murder.
The kid (Riz Ahmed), a Muslim, the son of a Pakistani cabbie, is sent to Rikers while he waits for his trial. He’ll never be the same.
So catch “The Night Of,” if you haven’t. But then catch Turturro in Nanni Moretti’s “Mia Madre,” too. The New York actor plays a New York actor – a pampered, pompous, mentally frayed movie star by the name of Barry Huggins. He has been hired to appear in an Italian film, a social drama about noble laborers and corporate despots (that’s him), and Turturro’s loutish, narcissistic turn provides the comic sheen to a tougher, sadder tale of crisis and loss.
Margherita Buy (“A Five Star Life”) plays Margherita, the director who cast Huggins. She struggles to keep her film on track while her personal life unravels – a failed relationship, a diffident teenage daughter, and a mother (Giulia Lazzarini) who is dying.
Writer/director Moretti, who has taken the lead in many of his films, from the autobiographical “Caro Diario” to “The Son’s Room” to “We Have a Pope,” is a supporting player here. He’s Giovanni, Margherita’s brother, tending to their mother while his sister tries to meet her deadlines and deal with her can’t-remember-his-lines star.
“Mia Madre” is a melancholy, moving portrait of a family coming together, or attempting to, in the face of death. It is also very much a story of women: the filmmaker Margherita, and the mother Ada, an inspiring and insightful literature professor beloved by her former students.
Moretti knows how to orchestrate a good laugh when it’s needed, but he can plumb more soulful, sorrowful depths, too. In “Mia Madre,” with its self-doubting director and wild-card American interloper, Moretti works a palette of shifting moods. Triumphantly.
Cast: John Turturro, Margherita Buy, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti
Director: Nanni Moretti
Length: 106 minutes
Rating: R (profanity, adult themes)