The attempt to reconcile the personal with the political has been the great theme of Nanni Moretti's cinema, as it was for many of the legendary Italian directors before him. In Mia Madre, it finds one of its more vivid examinations. The film's concept is blunt -- a director struggles with her dying mother's last days while trying to make a movie about a factory strike, and hilarity ensues (no, really) -- but Moretti's follow-through is tender and nuanced. Mia Madre is a sad little film, and also a very funny one -- which isn't contradictory when the subject is the inability to match thought and action, vision and reality.
We first see Margherita (Margherita Buy), the director of the film-within-the-film, in the midst of shooting a scene of a workers' protest being broken up by cops. She scolds a cameraman for closing in too much on the blows of a cop hitting a protester; she asks if the cameraman "wants to be the cop or the worker." Perspective matters, and how you frame a shot says a lot about how you see the world. It's not by chance that Moretti cuts to a close-up of a nurse rubbing Margherita's mother's hands with medication.
Margherita's film is a big-budget political drama starring big-name American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro), who turns out to be both an egomaniac and an incompetent; Turturro is hilarious as Barry, but somehow resists caricature. Moretti also intersperses brief dream sequences in which Margherita reassesses figures and events from her life. These hint at the key question on Moretti's mind, which concern how we value work and how life interferes with it.