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The First Beautiful Thing

  • Film
  • 2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

There are mothers, and then there are Italian mothers like Anna Nigiotti, the whirlwind maternal force at the center of Paolo Virz's pedestrian comic tearjerker. Played at different ages by both Micaela Ramazzotti and Stefania Sandrelli, Anna is possessed of boundless emotional energy and always seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown---the sort of Type A personality that the great Anna Magnani definitively made her own (see Luchino Visconti's Bellissima). Virz's take on the parent-child melodrama jumps back and forth in time, from the early '70s to the present, following Anna's oft-fatiguing relationship with her son and daughter. We mainly see events through the eyes of the former, Bruno (Mastandrea in the contemporary scenes), a burned-out high-school teacher who does everything in his power to avoid the spirited woman who birthed him.  

This was Italy's official submission for Best Foreign Film to the 2011 Academy Awards (a red flag more often than not), and, sure enough there's little here that rises above middlebrow. Despite Ramazzotti and Sandrelli's best efforts, Anna is more a collection of matronly tics than a character. And though plot turns are plentiful (divorce, cancer diagnosis, illegitimate child), the story's pro-family sentiments, which culminate in a cloying deathbed party sequence, are beyond forced. The lone witty scene---in which Anna is hired as an extra on the Marcello Mastroianni--Sophia Loren vehicle The Priest's Wife (1971)---makes you long for the days when Italian movies didn't repeatedly inspire the urge to scream basta!

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Written by Keith Uhlich
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