Vittoria (Sara Casu) is about to turn 10, and she lives with her doting mother Tina (Valeria Golino) in a happy and and stable household. She befriends Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), a dysfunctional and promiscuous alcoholic who’s about to be evicted from her own house unless she can raise 27,000 to pay off her debts. At first, it’s not entirely clear what bonds the adult and the child. They seem to have very little in common except for a vague physical resemblance.
Daughter of Mine is set in the barren and oppressively hot Summer of Sardinia, one of the poorest and most remote areas of Italy. Their fishing village looks very precarious and primitive, and untouched by tourists. The houses are old and most of the buildings are derelict, few roads have been paved, and a heavy and brown cloud of dust is lifted by passing cars and motorcycles. The landscape is very arid and golden-hued, just like Vittoria’s hair. This is a sight many people would not associate with a European country, but instead with a developing nation in Africa or South America.
We soon discover that Vittoria is in reality Angelica’s daughter, and that Tina adopted her in exchange for financial help for the biological mother. Vittoria begins to suspect that Tina isn’t her mother, and confronts Angelica about the truth. Angelica confirms her suspicion. Then everything changes. Vittoria rejects her adoptive mother and begins to forge a maternal connection with the very non-motherly Angelica. The inexperienced mother serves her daughter Alka-Setzer tea for breakfast.
There are elements of Italian Neorealism throughout the movie. The social realism in poverty-stricken Southern Italy and the shaky handheld camera will ring bells with fans of Rossellini and De Sica. There’s plenty of movement, and the cinematographer follows the two warring mothers as they walk in despair for very different reasons, in two key sequences of the movie.
Alba Rohrwacher is particularly impressive as the careless and irresponsible Angelica. She worked before with the filmmaker Laura Bispuri in Sworn Virgin (2015), where she played an Albanian transsexual. She has now fully displayed her chameleonic abilities, and is a strong contender for the Best Actress Golden Bear. Parallel to this, Bispuri is now established as one of the strongest voices in Italian cinema (a country with very few female filmmakers).
There is a highly symbolic moment in the film that deserves a special mention. Vittoria enters a tiny hole in the ground in a nearby necropolis, following the orders of her biological mother who believes there’s a treasure hidden underground. This is like reverse birth, reentering the mother (Mother Earth, in this case) for the purpose of death.
Yet, this is not a flawless film. While Rohrwacher is outstanding, some of the other actors are not as convincing. And some of the subplots don’t tie together with the rest of the narrative. For example, Angelica negotiates the sale of horses with a tradesmen played by Udo Kier, but I can’t see the functionality of the scenes except for showcasing the famous German thespian.
Daughter of Mine showed as part of the Official Competition of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. It premieres in the UK at the BFI London Film Festival taking place between October 10th and 21st.