“…frequent interjections of black and white footage…in the same manner that was employed in cult 90’s TV sitcom, Dream On…”
Wayward Wolf Film Review.
Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso, La Vita è Bella, La Grande Bellezza – Italian cinema is littered with gems such as these. Sentimental, often bordering on the saccharine, but forever compelling, emotionally-charged and beautifully realised films, one and all.
Sweet Dreams is a film whose component parts would appear to place it, at least content and intentions-wise, into the same sort of bracket. The bar is raised so high however that it is therefore perhaps unfair to compare the merits (or perhaps lack of), of Sweet Dreams with the aforementioned films. Try as it might, Marco Bellocchio’s tale of a man’s attempts in adulthood, to come to terms with the traumatic loss of his mother, during childhood, falls some way short of such revered company.
As a young boy, Massimo is firmly attached to his mothers’ apron strings, hanging on to her every word and action. His father, on the other hand, seems a far more peripheral figure in this life.
Little does the young boy realise though, that his mother, (played by Barbara Ronchi), is just as dependant upon her young son, as he is on her. Young Massimo provides her with the perfect distraction from the pain and complications of a hitherto unexplained illness or condition that she struggles with.
It is a condition that ultimately gets the better of her and she takes her own life. The morbid details of her suicide are never revealed to Massimo, and the now motherless child will grow up made to believe that it was in fact her weak heart that gave way; something that never quite sits right with the inquisitive youngster. With his mother now gone, and with a hired nanny and distant father figure barely a substitute, Massimo vows to confide all of his future fears, thoughts and feelings exclusively in a cult television character, Belfagor – a sort of soul-selling exercise; that is, until many years later, a compassionate Doctor, Elisa (Bérénice Bejo) enters the, by now renowned successful journalist’s life, and helps him to confront the trauma of his past.
There are frequent interjections of black and white footage of Massimo’s trusted Televisual confidant – much in the same manner that was employed in cult 90’s TV sitcom, Dream On – which is a nice, if unoriginal touch, and there are strong performances from all, including Guido Caprino as Massimo’s rather stern, emotionally unavailable father. But whether it’s the intentionally withdrawn, rather mono-syllabic performance of the film’s soul-searching lead (Valerio Mastandrea), whose life has become typically cyclic, time and again tripped up by his own unaddressed inadequacies, or a narrative that seems strangely incomplete, Sweet Dreams just doesn’t seem to hold together convincingly enough as a whole. It feels like an oddly disjointed film. Whilst we are reminded frequently of the traumatic events of Massimo’s past, there seems to be something of a chasm between that and the professional existence of his forty-something year old present. Bérénice Bejo’s role as the emotional conduit through which he can finally make the necessary connections and come to terms with the unresolved quandaries of his childhood, comes across, frustratingly, as somewhat undeveloped, which is by no means a slant on Bejo, herself.
It’s a nice story and not without its positives, and I’m assured that Massimo Gramellini’s book of the same name – upon which the film is based – is a most thought-provoking, acutely observational work, but there’s just something of a nagging sense that its film equivalent is sadly more than a tad undercooked.