Italian filmmaker Beniamino Barrese confesses to having dedicated his life to “filming and photographing my mother.” He won’t use the phrase “Oedipus Complex,” that is for the viewer to infer in watching his film about Mama, Benedetta Barzini.
“The Disappearance of My Mother” captures the 1960s supermodel turned ’70s (and beyond) Marxist/feminist, a striking figure who raised children by building an afterlife of journalism, activism and education.
Barrese has always found her his most captivating subject. But with “Disappearance,” Barzini is participating in one last flurry of filming in a Garbo snit. She wants to be alone. She wants him to stop filming her, to “leave all this” imagery, get away from the world, perhaps even commit suicide.
Or at least break the weirdly-obsessive son’s camera.
In “Disappearance,” we see archival interviews and footage of young Benedetta striking poses back in her day. We hear her explaining (in Italian, with English subtitles) that modeling means trying to “look indifferent to the troubles of the world,” that with makeup, hair and false-eyelashes she was “transformed according to the desires of others,” just one of those people who “vanish inside the concept of ‘beauty.'”
She’s 76 now, vaping instead of smoking, but her self-awareness dates from her peak earning years, when the budding feminist started rejecting the whole idea of fashion and selling oneself as “beauty.”
We look at her lecturing lovely Italian coeds about this and see and hear how unconvinced they are.
We see Barrese auditioning assorted models (in English), of different ages and different looks — gorgeous to a one — to “play” his mother in recreations for the film. He has them draw on a beauty mark that looks like the big mole Benedetta often covered with makeup during her cover girl days.
It’s just that his insistent filming is driving his mother to distraction. He has let a camera come between them, and she hisses “Assasino!” and “Basta! Enough!” She calls him a “petty bourgeois” and a “pain in the ass” even as she is negotiating with him about how his film will end, with her disappearing.
She wants to catch up with her old pal ’60s and fellow model and actress Lauren Hutton, and he wants to film the whole thing. Both of them chew him out, one a tad more gently than the other.
After we’ve seen the son surreptitiously film her (Blood on the pillow?) while Benedetta is sleeping, skinny dipping (maybe) in the bay, and squatting in the woods, we start to wonder what kind of co-dependent creeper she’s raised.
Like Garbo, Benedetta wants to “close the door,” but not for the same reasons, perhaps. Garbo wanted her image to remain young, sexy, exotic and unattainable, and resisted being photographed for the last 50 years of her life. Vanity.
Benedetta Barzini, still modeling (a special appearance in a show in London’s Fashion Week), but deeply soured on a planet despoiled by fashion and the “men” (and women) who run it, just wants “out.”
Doing this film gives her control of that, she figures, a chance to stage her exit from the scene, “the only gift I can offer myself.”
She laments that with all this cell-phone narcissism and mania for photographing everything, “nothing is left to memory.” But by the end, “I hate memory” is her new mantra.
As for the film, and its testy 90 minutes of bickering over “the ending,” the only thing that could live up to that talked-to-death hype is a suicide, or something proximating that.
Barzini doesn’t want that “violence” on her memory, or in her son’s film. Thankfully.
After watching that son recreate Mom’s famous poses and cover shots with a vast array of today’s young (and unknown) models, maybe she figures she needs to stick around, on or off film. Somebody’s got to pay for the boy’s therapy.
MPAA Rating: unrated, smoking, profanity
Cast: Benedetta Barzini, Beniamino Barrese, Lauren Hutton
Credits: Written and directed by Beniamino Barres.e A Kino Lorber release.
Running time: 1:34