The Son's Room
|Keywords||Adolescence, Cancer, Communication, Death and Dying, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Family Relationships, Grief, Impaired Physician, Love, Marital Discord, Mental Illness, Mourning, Ordinary Life, Parenthood, Physician Experience, Professionalism, Suffering|
Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is a psychoanalyst. He has a beautiful wife, Paola (Laura Morante), and an adolescent son and daughter, Andrea and Irene. One Sunday morning, Giovanni gets a call from one of his patients, newly diagnosed with cancer and frantic. Instead of spending the day with his family, Giovanni attends to his patient. Andrea goes diving with friends, there is an accident, and he is killed.
The rest of the film examines the family’s bereavement. Giovanni finds his work increasingly difficult, and by the end of the film he has decided that he can no longer be a psychotherapist.
A love letter addressed to Andrea arrives from a girl called Arianna: it turns out Andrea had a secret girlfriend. Both parents become obsessed, in different ways, with contacting Arianna. Eventually she visits them, while hitchhiking with her new boyfriend, and the family drive all night along the Mediterranean coast, taking Arianna and the boy to France. Next morning, on the beach at Nice, in saying goodbye to Arianna, they seem to have made progress in continuing their life as a family without their lost son.
Not only a perceptive and honest addition to literature about family bereavement, this film also explores powerfully the connections between personal experience and the clinician’s professional relationship with patients. This is of course most evident in the case of psychotherapy, but is equally applicable to other doctor-patient relationships.
A large part of the film takes place in Giovanni’s practice. The film allows the audience to identify with the analyst, listening at first to his various patients’ stories, some moving, others amusing, with a degree of clinical detachment. After Andrea’s death, however, scenes like this become hard to endure.
We, the audience, need to process our own loss of the character and our identification with Giovanni’s grief, and instead we are forced, with him, to listen to the anxieties of his patients, which suddenly seem almost outrageously petty and selfish. The challenges of empathy and of professionalism in the face of personal agony has surely seldom been so vividly presented. Gradually, Giovanni’s work deteriorates and he decides to give up. The scenes where he tells his patients he is leaving them are perceptive and complex.
The film does not offer easy resolution or closure. Arianna allows the family a little extra time to say goodbye to their son: she has photographs of him that they have never seen. When they part from her in France, it seems they can now acknowledge his death.
|Leading Actors||Laura Morante, Nanni Moretti|
|Studio||Rai Cinemafiction (Italy), Bac Films (France)|
|Running Time||99 minutes|
|Video Source||Miramax video|
|Miscellaneous||Italian title: La stanza del figlio. Subtitled in English. Won the Cannes film festival Palme d'Or (2001).|
|Annotated by||Belling, Catherine|
|Date of Entry||01/10/03|