22 August 2008 | Bunuel1976
MOTHER’S HEART (Salvatore Samperi, 1969) **1/2
Curiously enough, I became aware of this movie through its music score: as part of my two-month film-making course in Hollywood in late 2005, I chose to accompany my final project with pieces culled from a CD compilation featuring some of Ennio Morricone’s oddest soundtracks – entitled “Crime & Dissonance”; a good deal of music that I ended up using came from this obscure little item, which back then I thought was a sentimental family drama. Some months ago, it turned up on late-night Italian TV and I took the opportunity to tape the broadcast; having watched the film now, I can say that MOTHER’S HEART is nothing like what I expected it to be!
Indeed, it’s most unusual – and the whole is rendered even stranger by Morricone’s fantastic (and intricate) compositions: the protagonist is a divorced mother (Carla Gravina, still best-known perhaps for playing the possessed lead in THE ANTICHRIST ) of three who may or may not be a mute; we’re never actually told, but the fact remains that she doesn’t utter a single word during the course of the film (and yet people around her seem to act as if awaiting her reply)! While the children are cared for by a cantankerous old maid, she works at a bookshop – however, the heroine’s also involved somehow with a group of revolutionaries. Incidentally, the kids are far more knowledgeable than their years (in the very opening scene, they’re engaged in ‘professional’ tattooing on each other!) – the eldest, in particular, is himself keen on politics and bio-chemistry (he’s obsessed with firing a rocket); it was amusing but, at the same time, weird to hear him accuse his three year-old sibling of being a Communist (which the latter vehemently denies)! And it seems that the precociousness of Gravina’s children is not an isolated case, either, as another mother seeking new reading material at the bookshop for her kid (who, she says, is over the traditional Children’s Classics such as “Treasure Island” and “Around The World In 80 Days”) is suggested De Sade’s “Justine” since it’s the story of a little orphan girl!
Things get even more out of hand: as the mother drifts farther away from her job (eventually being sacked) and duty at home into outright terrorism, the kids come up with their own violent ‘games’ – first by killing their pet cat when, as passenger of the rocket during its test flight, the ‘launch’ backfires and the rocket explodes; then, when the toddler is tragically drowned in the bath-tub! During the funeral (also attended by the father – an underused Philippe Leroy – and his new companion, who’s actually good friends with Gravina!), the eldest son sadistically reads aloud from an encyclopedia the effects of such a terrible death. Later on, after the remaining kids spend some time with Dad (only to embarrass him in front of guests by playing a clandestine recording of his love-making the night before!), the sister also perishes at the hands of her intellectual sibling via a deliberate leakage of gas – which he’s personally able to endure by wearing a self-constructed gas mask!! The mother, then, is forced to take stock of the situation: left alone with the boy – who actually blames her for the two previous deaths (not an entirely unfounded accusation, given her chronic aloofness) – she blows him up while he’s fiddling yet again with the rocket! After this, it’s back to the revolution – except that her former companions have started to disperse: however, by now, the heroine’s learned how to assemble a bomb by herself…with the obvious target being her ex-husband’s pharmaceutical factory!
I’m sure that even from the above synopsis, one is able to grasp just how bizarre this film is; for the record, the only other Samperi effort I’d watched was THANK YOU, AUNT (1968) – which was itself fairly disturbing in view of the incestuous sado-masochistic central relationship and a finale promoting euthanasia! Apart from Morricone’s delightful contribution (frequently providing ironic counterpoint to the on-screen events), the anchor here is clearly Gravina – despite the inherent difficulty in playing a character who’s basically a cipher; incidentally, her rapport with the kids is genuine since the elder couple are the actress’ real-life off-springs! Besides, the film contains a surreal quality to it – which is positively winning…though it’s all eventually worn down by the excessive political rallying.