There’s something so Italian about big, wholesome families with a lot of extra love to give. In Sweet Dreams, an Italian film from director Marco Bellocchio, we watch the life of a man struggling to cope with the loss of his mother.
Early on in the film, Nicolò Cabras plays little Massimo, confused and tormented by his mother’s sudden death. Here, the boy absorbs and reflects the world around him, looking for something to grasp on to. The audience feels that way, too. The first hour jumps from scene to scene without revealing why you’re there or why it might be significant later on. Sweet Dreams almost works as a mystery, rather than a sentimental drama, as we pick apart the messiness of a confused life.
Confused as it might be, Massimo’s journey from childhood to adulthood has incredibly beautiful moments. Adult Massimo (Valerio Mastrandrea) carries the weight of the preceding scenes, and decades of soul-searching. He’s detached and dulled by trauma; but the beautiful writing and performance of some standout sequences make for powerful, memorable scenes.
For a film that focuses on one person’s life, it’s nice that Massimo encounters a handful of interesting locales and 1990s-era historic plot points. He spends time in war-torn Bosnia as a journalist, and brushes up against interesting Italian subculture. They don’t truly add much – they were probably more enlightening in the book the film is based on. Yet, coupled with always pleasing visuals (care of Daniele Ciprì) and a memorable, understated synth score, they make the hefty 130-minute run-time easily bearable.
A heart-wrenching story of motherly love and the value of family, Sweet Dreams‘ most powerful moments lean heavily on sentimentality. You’re left exhausted (in a good way) by the end. Some sequences don’t add to the main theme, but that’s okay, as they’re beautiful in their own right.
CAST: Bérénice Bejo, Valerio Mastandrea, Fabrizio Gifuni
DIRECTOR: Marco Bellocchio
WRITERS: Massimo Gramellini (novel), Valia Santella (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: Massimo’s idyllic childhood is shattered by the death of his mother. Years later, he is forced to relive his traumatic past and compassionate doctor Elisa could help him open up and confront his childhood wounds.