Every now and then (but it does seem rarer and rarer over the past few years) a film comes along that touches me very deeply. This is probably not only because of the film itself but where I am in life. There’s a convergence, I guess — but putting it this way sounds very pretentious because, in the case of watching this particular film, I never anticipated things to converge.
The Son of the Bride (2001) is an Argentinian film El Hijo de la Novia directed and written by Juan Jose Campanella. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.
It is the story of a 42 year old restaurant owner named Rafael Belvedere (superbly played by Ricardo Darin). Years earlier his marriage went pear shape — and very early on you understand it is a combination of his obsessive working patterns and his own emotional ‘limitations’ (as his ex-wife puts it to him in one scene: “I look in the index of a book on Freudian psychology and I see you!”) Rafael has a young daughter, whom he attempts to see every Thursday but work tends to keep him preoccupied while his daughter is growing up right before his eyes (if he could only see). Rafael now lives with his very young girlfriend, Nati (a beautiful and talented Natalia Verbeke).
Rafael’s life is intense and stressful (he has a heart attack, which is not all the surprising). His life is full of stress — what with his relationships with his wife, his young daughter, his girlfriend and his pressurized resturant business. He wants out, and says he wants freedom. The issue, however, is Rafael really doesn’t want freedom as much as something far deeper and more poignant.
The deeper issue is his relationship with his father, Nino (played by Hector Alterio who, for my money, gives nothing short of an exquisite performance). Well, it is not so much Rafael’s relationship with his father as Rafael’s emotional response to his father’s continued love with his wife, Rafael’s mother, Norma (for reasons that become clear as you watch the film, Norma Aleandro’s performance is magical). Rafael’s father continues to adore Rafael’s mother. And, after 44 years of common law marriage, Nino decides he’d like to marry Norma in a church (this part is both genuinely funny and deeply poignant). It is a gift he wants to give to his wife. But here’s the thing about his wife, Rafael’s mother — she has Alzheimer’s.
She is losing her memory but Rafael hasn’t lost certain memories — and this is what is deeply troubling him. I’d better not give the story away. It’s in this sense that while he thinks it is freedom he wants, it really is something else. The something else is what actually will bring him re-engagement with his wife, his daughter, his girl friend, an old childhood friend who returns in his life, his father and, more than anyone else…his mother.
Let me come clean (and some of you know this anyway…) my mother died last autumn from complications directly linked with Alzheimer’s. So, yup, I’ll admit my own projections and my own emotional engagement with this film. Funny thing, though, I queued up this film in my Rental so long ago that when it finally arrived I couldn’t remember a thing about the film and why I selected it. So, I watched it “cold” and was unprepared.
My sense is this film could have become a tacky, sweet and sentimental Hollywood kind of film — in fact, you sort of expect it will. The wonderful thing is that the film holds back from being sentimental and predictable. It is, however, well worth watching precisely because it stimulates, evokes and can bring important convergences. And this type of film is becoming rarer and rarer.