Saturday, July 16, 2011

Joy in Small Things

The First Beautiful Thing                                                                         
(la Prima cosa bella)

     In the Italian comedy-drama, The First Beautiful Thing, the estranged son of a beautiful, unconventional single mother relives his rocky childhood when he is reunited with her in her final hours. 
     Paolo Virzi wrote and directed this fun, heart-warming story about a man who blames his mother for his troubled, tumultuous childhood, but finally comes to understand her at the end of her life. 
     The First Beautiful Thing was Italy's Oscar submission this past year and received 18 David di Donatello (Italian Oscar) nominations, including wins for Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Valerio Mastandrea) and Best Actress (Micaela Ramazotti). 
     After Anna (played in her younger incarnation by the stunning Micaela Ramazotti) wins an impromptu beauty pageant and draws a lot of attention from male admirers, her husband Mario (Sergio Albelli) becomes insanely jealous, driving Anna out of the house with their two young children, Bruno and Valeria.  What follows is a chaotic childhood for the two siblings, as their lives are repeatedly buffeted by the unwelcome attention Anna's beauty, frivolity and naivete attracts from those around them, particularly men. 

Micaela Ramazotti and Sergio Albelli

     When he becomes an adult, Bruno (Mastandrea), comes to resent his mother for all of the emotional turmoil and embarassment he had to endure and moves to Milan to get away from her.  He is tricked by his sister Valeria, played by Claudia Pandolfi, into visiting his mother (played in her final years by Stefania Sandrelli), who is now dying in a hospice.  The story moves back and forth between Bruno and Valeria's years growing up in Livorno and the present day. 

Valerio Mastandrea and Stefania Sandrelli

     Anna's beauty is more than skin deep.  She tries to teach her kids to appreciate the small joys in life and never loses her optimistic nature, despite all of the setbacks and deprivations they are forced to endure.  As they reunite one last time, Bruno and Valerio finally get the answers about their mother that eluded them for 40 years, and they come to see her in a more forgiving and appreciative light. 
     The First Beautiful Thing is not a ground-breaking film in terms of story, adhering closely to the comedy Italian-style conventions of its predecessors in the genre, but it is nonetheless a sentimental and entertaining crowd-pleaser with a wonderful cast that pays tribute to the film's characters. 

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