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An Iranian travels to Basilicata... And if that Iranian is Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of the country's major filmmakers, the result is Marghe and Her Mother, the penultimate Secret Screening of Locarno 2020. It's an Italian film in terms of language, style and horizons, crafted with the cinematic savvy of a master whose cinematic language doesn't need any extra words to tell stories. This most recent one has its European premiere in Locarno.
This European premiere of Marghe and Her Mother marks the unexpected and delightful return to filmmaking of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the great Iranian director. Makhmalbaf surprises us with this invitation to southern Italy to follow the adventures of six-year-old Marghe and her working-class single mother Claudia. In the brilliant sunshine of Italian villages, Makhmalbaf parallels the awakening of the girl’s consciousness of the world and her mother’s increasingly picaresque attempts to put food on the table, lacing his twisting narrative with a rich sense of humor. But what is most striking is that Makhmalbaf has attained the level of stylistic mastery of a painter who renders the world with a single brushstroke: he gets to the heart of the matter in three shots or a single camera movement, achieving a level of precision, purity and abstraction reminiscent of the later films of Claude Chabrol. The result is a film both sensual and comedic, occasionally enigmatic, but always anchored by the director’s singular vision. While Marghe and Her Mother marks a significant change from two releases from 1996, Gabbeh or A Moment of Innocence (screened in our A Journey in the Festival’s History), the films that made Makhmalbaf internationally famous, fans of his work will recognize his relationship to actors, in which the performers’ real selves rise to the surface to create complex portraits of regular people. In this sense, the portrayal of young Marghe is one of bracingly alive depictions of a child on screen in many years.