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My Hair Hurts (Mi Fanno Male i Capelli)

A woman losing her memory reclaims her connection to reality after seeing Monica Vitti on film, in this highly intertextual drama - a beautifully deluded Alba Rohrwacher dazzles the 53rd International Film Festival Rotterdam


Monica (Alba Rohrwacher) is a married to the charming and caring Edoardo (Filippo Timi). She is losing her memory due a very rare and irreversible disease. She barely recognises those around him, often landing her spouse in hot water. Reality quickly disintegrates. She connects with the late Monica Vitti after she watching her famous namesake on various films. Her hapless husband sees no other choice but to play along. Quite literally. He dresses up as Marcello Mastroianni and interacts with the woman he loves as if they indeed where characters within a movie.

Played with passion and depth by the multifaceted Alba Rohrwacher (now firmly established as one of Italy’s most diverse and promising female thespians), Monica gradually loses connection with the world around her, gently slipping in a delicious fiction defined by the films in which Monica Vitti played a major role. You can see the Norma Desmond’s spark of fear and delusion in the eyes of our protagonist as she vigorously attempts to emulate Vitti, and to communicate with her filmic lovers on the silver screen (or the television set in her sumptuous house). Edoardo too begins to lapse into a state of disengagement, perhaps out of self-denial. He owes debt collectors nearly €200,000, and their life of relative comfort and luxury is in imminent peril. Edoardo and Monica could have a tragic fate not dissimilar to the female characters of the Italian movies here displayed.

The movie title is a line from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964). This 2024 movie blends clips from the director’s trilogy of modernity and its discontents (The Red Desert, 1961’s The Night, and 1962’s The Eclipse) as well as other films with the iconic diva, such as the romantic comedies Help Me My Love (1969) and not least Polvere di Stelle (1973), both written and starred by Alberto Sordi. The story is as fractured as Monica’s mind, in an entirely intertextual find designed to confound and astound viewers. It partly works. At times it is difficult to distinguish Rohrwacher from Vitti, particularly when cinematographer Stefano Salemme uses grainy, vintage media to capture in order the former (creating the illusion that 44-year-old Rohrwacher starred in films from the 1960s). This was clearly intentional, as the creators attempted to blur the line between fiction and reality, and also between the film and the many films-within-the-film. The outcome is a freeform tribute to the Italian superstar, and a riff on the deceptive essence of cinema.

Extra credit goes to the extravagant costumes (particularly the headgear) created by Massimo Catini Parrini, and also to the exquisite music score by Shigeru Umebayashi. These elements are deftly combined when Monica tries different her costumes and dances to the movie characters living inside her television set.

On the other hand, My Hair Hurts is so intoxicated by references, and inebriated by adulation of the late diva (Vitti passed away less than two years ago at the ripe age of 90) that it indeed gets a little painful on the head. Those who never heard of Alberto Sordi and are only vaguely familiar with Vitti’s extensive filmography and life story may end up tearing their hair out in anticipation for a more cognitive moment that never materialises. Such is the case with myself. This is an endeavour too esoteric to be appreciated by broader audiences. While charming, My Hair Hurts fails to dazzle viewers with charisma of Monica Vitti and Alice Rohrwacher. In other words, it will not convert any new fans.

My Hair Hurts just had its international premiere at the 53rd Rotterdam International Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 27-01-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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