Synopsis: A drama centered on a girl who is living a seemingly happy life with her parents who raised her only to then find herself in a tricky situation when her biological mother shows up.
Italian cinema has recently veered into cinéma-vérité films that, while being raw and emotional, tend to highlight stories from disadvantaged communities and lend voices to those whose stories stay far away from the news. This has given us several gems in previous years, particularly A CIAMBRA, which was Italy’s official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar just last year.
Laura Bispuri’s DAUGHTER OF MINE once again marks Italian cinema’s return to the decaying alleys and poor residential areas that tourists do not get to see on postcards or touristic tours. Set in an undisclosed town whose residents are barely getting by, the film uses social class as a backdrop to a story that does not attempt to be a political or social commentary but rather a focused melodrama that puts human emotion front and center. Like A CIMABRA, however, social class and status play a fundamental role here in putting the characters in the middle of financial obstacles that lead them to take risks, make sacrifices and experience the agony of vanished hopes.
One of the Berlinale Competition’s most straight-forward films this year, the film opens with 9-year-old Vittoria (a sharp Sara Casu) who is living with her caring mother Tina (Valeria Golino). A mysterious encounter with an eccentric, alcoholic woman, Angelica (a ferocious Alba Rohrwacher) takes Vittoria on a journey of discovery. To her, Angelica represents everything her mother isn’t – she is rash, sexy, insane and playful. Soon after, Vittoria discovers that Angelica is her real mother and an interesting drama ensues between Tina and Angelica over who deserves to have the girl.
Bispuri makes a smart decision by retooling the story midway and taking it from a typical maternity drama to a more intriguing and affecting empowerment tale. Once the secret is out and Vittoria knows who her real mother is, she knows she has to start making a choice. And that’s where it gets interesting as the girl who is on the eve of celebrating her tenth birthday starts to experience a wide range of internal struggles and emotions. Casu’s performance as Vittoria is perhaps intentionally under-stated, and the film does not offer her any emotional catharsis scenes. Instead, Bispuri takes the subtle route and makes her lead character’s struggles more introvert instead of a weepy, sappy approach. This mostly works because the trauma could overshadow any real or immediate reaction, especially as Vittoria sees her biological mother collapsing in front of her eyes with poverty and alcoholism taking the best of her.
Emotional and accessible, this is a film about motherhood, identity and choice. While it may not take big narrative risks, nor unpredictable twists and turns – particularly by revealing the main dramatic moment early on – but it remains affecting and interesting to watch. This is particularly thanks to a sublime performance by Alba Rohrwacher as Angelica who makes the best out of her screen time to deliver a nuanced and believable performance of a suffering mother who abandons her daughter and lives with the guilt and pain every single day. The camera work and lensing are not particularly noteworthy but it’s the script and the performances that really elevate the film’s emotional impact.
Verdict: Powerful and affecting, DAUGHTER OF MINE is a straightforward but compelling drama that engages and succeeds in delivering an interesting story of love, empowerment and forgiveness.