Fifty years have passed since his first film, Fists in the pockets (1965), and yet Marco Bellocchio, the grand man of Italian cinema, is still there. With sweet DREAMS, inspired by a book by Massimo Gramellini, journalist-important of the daily La Stampa, the filmmaker, at the age of 76 years, makes a remarkable work, driven by a purity of feelings, where the secrets and the unsaid of the child may dictate a life.
This is the story of Massimo, a young boy of 9 years, who loses his mother in a brutal way and in strange circumstances. This issue of grief of a mother by a child evokes necessarily the very beautiful film by Luigi Comencini, The Misunderstood (1967). As in the latter, Massimo finds himself alone with a father who can barely handle the situation. But if at Comencini , the young Andrea was a child unable to express his distress and his grief, and became so misunderstood in the eyes of his father, who saw it as a form of disdain, Massimo, himself, is especially confronted with the secret. It is said first that his mother is in the hospital, and then she turned into an angel and has joined God. Explanations which show the difficulty for adults to tell the truth – and will lead to the passage Bellocchio to a critique of the religion –, and that is not suitable for Massimo. On the contrary, the child will rebel, is standing up to the adult world with a certain maturity, even (impressive Nicolo’ Cabras, his interpreter) and becomes even more difficult to contain.
To deal with this topic oh how touching, Bellocchio is with control, using the camera in the best way. In sweet DREAMS, he prefers the looks and faces, as well as silences, far more suggestive to express the emotions and character of his characters than any of the dialogue – often seen in Italian cinema in general. It all begins with a dance between a mother and her son. A rock marked by the absence of oral expression. Only a few laughs barely noticeable, a big smile displayed on the face of the mother, and eyes that hypnotized a son full of love. A reciprocal love, a complicity sincere feel deeply in us. And yet, Bellocchio has not yet said anything. It was enough to create a special atmosphere, between nostalgia and anxiety (and some dreams) and let its characters evolve with ease. This nostalgia and this concern is at the heart of this first part, on the youth of Massimo. The concern felt in front of the face of the mother of Massimo (intriguing Barbara Ronchi), whose glance is enough to understand the fragility. And although her death is, in a certain way, expected, it remains an oddity.
”A remarkable work, driven by a purity of feelings, where the secrets and the unsaid of the child may dictate a life.”
Because Bellocchio adopt the point of view of its main character. A child who does not understand what happened. That from one day to the next day, faces the worst tragedy and seeks refuge in what he can. Here, an imaginary friend, taking the form of Belphégor, le fantôme du Louvre, Massimo watched the series with his mother in a moment of pure complicity. An item with which Bellocchio plays beautifully, bringing a touch of fantasy, in particular through the musical composition and its gorgeous main theme. In speaking to this Belphégor imagined it, following its instructions, the child hides the truth and tries to abandon certain responsibilities. But in reality, it is especially haunted by this sudden abandonment, and the memories of her mother, who will continue as an adult.
We are thus alternating between the Massimo young from the end of the year 1960, and the Massimo adult (Valerio Mastandrea, simply excellent) 1990, became successively a sports journalist and war reporter. Forced to come back in the apartment of his father that he must sell, Massimo will see all the memories back. And it is in this that the nostalgia felt from the first moments of sweet DREAMS makes sense. Bellocchio, who has taken the trouble to insist on these variety shows of the Italian 1960s, the club of football of Torino (former general of Italy up to the tragedy, mentioned, 4 may 1949 when the plane carrying the players crashed), and then on the discovery of the rock aliens in the 1970’s…, The director leads his film to his own sensibility. Beyond adaptation, it makes for sweet DREAMS something extremely personal that he manages to convey to the viewer.
Has to want to evoke as many things in the space of two hours, we may think too full ; Massimo young, then adolescent, and finally adult still being built. But it is not. Playing many small ellipses, Bellocchio leaves its viewer to work and brings her to each time a new item on the life of its protagonist. In particular, his meeting Elisa’s (marvelous Bérénice Béjo) after a sudden anxiety attack. Without too much bothering of the evolution of their relationship – the film maker is not the type to chew the work for the viewer – Bellocchio induces subtly a note of hope for this man to become totally opaque to the emotion whatever it may be. Not so much insensitive, while the charm of some women to leave of marble, it appears to be out of the world. Unable to live his life, which he is above all a spectator, marked by his fears fled. He will return on his past, to confide, even to strangers – sequences of a letter published in the journal of great emotion, before a counterpoint humorous awesome as Bellocchio has the secret – before finding a form of issue (proven by the audience all through the film). In this sweet DREAMS is obvious and simple, but is no less rich and wonderful. A work that even scanned from top to bottom, would keep her still hidden subtleties. A work that ultimately can only be best appreciated and understood by being seen.
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