My Mother’s Smile is a 2002 Italian film directed by Marco Bellocchio. The original Italian title is L’ora di religione (Il sorriso di mia madre) (“The Hour of Religion (My Mother’s Smile)”).
Ernesto Picciafuoco, painter and illustrator of children’s tales, is a part of a very important but impoverished family, which wants to regain its stature through a Holy Family. The late mother of the protagonist seems to be the only true religious person in the weak and stupid family. Two of the young rebels are now in the 40s and are completely detached from the hypocrisy of religion. One of them pretends to be very religious, to get back his job. The other, the protagonist, is uncertain, beset by moral doubts, mainly because of his young son who could learn the hypocrisy from him. The film is a journey through the absurd and surreal episodes. Ernesto, the protagonist, is contacted by a mysterious cardinal who wants to question him about the process of sanctification of the mother, about which he knew nothing until then. Then the child goes to school for the hearings with teachers, where he meets a young and charming, “religious teacher”, to whom he is attracted, but that will be an impossibility. He has a discussion with a religious man appointed to investigate circumstances of “martyrdom”, which asks account the non-baptism of his son, showing that he is well informed about him and trying to know why Ernest had “lost faith” . Ernesto is then challenged to a duel, for petty reasons, from a noble dream of an improbable restoration of the monarchy, but the duel is interrupted after a few seconds. He talks with his aunt, who has never shown much faith, but now, attracted by possible financial gain and popularity that the family would derive from sanctification, for a purely opportunistic attempt to bring her nephew on the “right path”. Meanwhile, the wife of Ernesto administers a sort of baptism to the child sleeping, anxious to repair the previous “no”.
About the movie
As with his feature debut, Fists in the Pocket , Marco Bellocchio’s My Mother’s Smile was deemed blasphemous by the Roman Catholic Church for what the Church referred to as Bellocchio’s “systematic destruction of family and religious values.” Contrary to the Church’s presumptions about Bellocchio, My Mother’s Smile is a fascinating portrait of a man (Sergio Castellitto as Ernesto) who is forced to reconcile with his own atheism after receiving a shocking appeal from the Church requesting his participation in the canonization of his “saintly” mother.
The Church supports the claim that Ernesto’s mother held miraculous healing powers, but if she is going to be ordained, the Church needs to prove that her violent death, at the hands of the most unlikeliest person, culminated with a vow of forgiveness for her murderer. Ernesto’s relationship to the murderer provides the Church with its last chance of uncovering the truth, but he is reluctant to succumb to his family’s pressure and schemes. Overwhelmed by the fact that he didn’t sense the conspiracy beneath him, the conflicts haunting him come to the fore and his memory of his mother opens up a gaping chasm that forces him to reconsider the past and live the present differently.