In his first feature length documentary, director Barrese tackles — or attempts to tackle- an enigmatic, often unwilling subject — his own mother, sixties fashion model Benedetta Barzini. We quickly learn that this is a woman of complexity and contradictions. The first Italian model to make the cover of American Vogue, Barzini went from hobnobbing in Manhattan with celebs like Andy Warhol to an intentionally private, unadorned life as a feminist and teacher in her native Italy. The director uses the project to explore his mother’s life and attitudes as she enters her seventies, and it’s not an easy process — for them or for us.
This fascinating film shows an adoring son trying to understand a mother who resists being understood. Though Barzini made her name in the publicity-fueled, image-oriented world of high fashion, she walked away from it all when she realized her best days were over. Then she built a completely different life that firmly rejected all that went before. The older, decidedly unglamorous Benedetta seems barely to tolerate Barrese’s insistent questions much of the time, and she’s clearly had enough of cameras in her face. Still, it’s also obvious that she loves her son, because no one else would be allowed to film her at all. In the end, we get a glimpse of a proud, reserved woman living a modest life out of the spotlight, trying to placate her only close relative. Why does Barrese want to capture her on film so desperately? Most likely it’s to have something to hold onto when she’s gone.