My mother is a difficult person to write about, as difficult as she was to live with while she was alive. My only handle to wrap around this problem is an Italian film that came out a couple years ago called "My Mother's Smile". This movie is filled with obvious hilarious plot points yet it is played so straight as to just about kill the humor.
But let me try to sum up the plot first. A man is approached by his estranged siblings to help give evidence in the long process of making their mother a saint. No, really, a saint in the Catholic Church. In Italy, where the church and sainthood are right up there with soccer.
Why is their mother up for sainthood? Besides the truism that every mother is a saint in some way, and in spite of the fact that they drive us crazy while they are alive, this particular mother was murdered by another sibling who then went back to the asylum. But the mother forgave him with her dying words, and that is why she is being put up for sainthood.
Already we know this is not quite the normal family. The man in question is not interested in helping make her a saint. For one thing, he is an atheist, and for another thing, he is divorced and persona non grata at church.
And for a third thing, he does not think she was at all saintly. He recalls all too well how she shouted at the kids and and was far from an ideal mother. He recounts every example with glee to his siblings who earnestly remind him how much it would mean to have a saint for a mother. They could get their kids into the best schools, etc. etc.
You're just having a mid-life crisis, they tell him. Just have an affair like anyone else. AND testify to how saintly your mother was.
You might comprehend how it is that the Catholic Church deemed this film blasphemous, which was of course a boon to marketing. Yet in my humble opinion everyone focuses too much on the supposed anti-Catholic tone of the film, and how it makes the whole process of saint-making look ridiculous.
Again, in my humble opinion the focus should be on the eternal and probably unsolvable question of whether every mother is a saint, yes or no. Of course she is a saint in the sense that she refrained from killing us a dozen times over. But then again no, she was hell on earth, or she wouldn't buy us the 'in' jeans brand, or she threw out our comic books, or she never listened, or she hated our music and grimaced every time we played a record, or she did not stand up for us, blah blah blah.
So what. Even tho moms read all the parenting books they can, there is little that can overcome the programming that their mothers and fathers put into them. Having a dog instead of children seems the best way to break the cycle.
And yet, we swear that when we have children, that we will never repeat the supposed errors of mom or dad. And yet, again, we hear the same words come out of our mouths that came from our mothers' mouths. "And I suppose if everyone else jumped off a cliff, you would, too?" we ask in reply to the argument that 'everyone else is doing it'. "If you fall off and break your neck, don't come crying to me" we warn our daredevil kids. And so forth.
Then we catch some previously unnoticed legacy from one or the other parent. Like the man in the movie, who finally notices that he has his mother's smile, we find we have mom's handwriting, or dad's hairline, or we sound the same on the phone, or any other number of tiny traits.
Insignificant, yet they prove that mom once had a child, and the child is me.
Marco Bellocchio's My Mother's Smile was shown at the 2002 New York Film Festival and at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, where it won a Special Mention for the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. ~ Josh Ralske, All Movie Guide.