Sweet Dreams review: a high-end soap that’s a little on the frothy side

Marco Bellocchio keeps the drama light as he returns to that old Italian staple - the tale of a boy’s love for his mother

Sweet Dreams
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Director: Marco Bellocchio
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Valerio Mastandrea, Bérénice Béjo, Guido Caprino, Nicolò Cabras, Emmanuelle Devos
Running Time: 2 hrs 14 mins

Once a great friend of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Bellocchio has been in and about Italian cinema for over 50 years. His work is agreeably hard to pin down. He directed a version of Pirandello's Henry IV with Marcello Mastroianni. In 1988, he manoeuvred Béatrice Dalle into a deliciously inappropriate melodrama called The Witches' Sabbath. At the end of the last decade, Bellocchio's Vincere powerfully examined the early life of Mussolini.

Sad to relate, the director's latest film never gets itself above third gear. Based on an autobiographical novel by Massimo Graminelli, Sweet Dreams is very professionally carried off. Bérénice Béjo turns up to confirm that she is among the warmest screen presences of the age. Daniele Cipri's camera adapts to different environments with great dexterity.

But this tale of a boy’s love for his mother tells us little that we have not heard from a hundred other Italian films. That’s some bond those people have got going.

The picture begins with a highlight. It is the 1960s and young Massimo (Nicoló Cabras) is inveigled into dancing the twist with his insecure mother (Barbara Ronchi). The cinematography is washed out. The acting is sincere. We already feel we are looking backwards from a less happy time.


Sure enough, Mamma dies soon after – her last words to the boy are "sweet dreams" – and Massimo (now Valerio Mastrandrea) is propelled into a troubled, uneasy adulthood. He works in various schools of journalism for La Stampa.

We move back in time for an adolescent encounter with a scantily used Emmanuelle Devos. A scene in Sarajevo where he is working as a war reporter is meant sincerely, but verges dangerously close to bathos. Eventually, the protagonist finds a kind of emotional release with Béjo’s kindly doctor.

As a high-end soap, Sweet Dreams works very nicely. The film flows down the gullet without much irritation. But those humble pleasures are deadened by the sense that the supposed mystery involving the mother's death is not so oblique as the script pretends. It will do well enough.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist