March 12, 2020  (Web Review)

The Disappearance of My Mother

(2019) 97 min. In Italian & English w/English subtitles. DVD: $29.99 ($349 w/PPR from DRA. Kino Lorber (avail from most distributors). Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Filmmaker Beniamino Barrese’s documentary is a somewhat oddball love letter to his mother, Benedetta Barzini, an internationally famous model in the 1960s who was photographed by cultural icons including Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon. Now 75, Benedetta wants to “disappear,” perhaps sailing off to an uncharted island to live unencumbered by fame and possessions so she can experience the “opposite of what I’ve known so far.” Her son “Ben”—who has filmed his mother obsessively since he was old enough to wield a movie camera—doesn’t want to let her go, constantly recording her daily life despite her repeated entreaties to stop. But the situation is more complicated: Benedetta teaches classes in which she sharply criticizes the fashion industry as a manipulative enterprise built on the male gaze, yet even in her senior years, she continues to occasionally model. And while she often irritably pushes her voyeuristic son away, she also sometimes poses and pirouettes for his camera. The question is how much of this repetitive mother-son tension viewers are willing to witness before losing interest, especially when the audience seems utterly beside the point. We know the chronology is fractured due to the age differences in Benedetta, but Barzini makes no attempt to offer a comprehensible biographical portrait of his mother, serving up bits and pieces of archival footage with precious little connecting thread. And in a head-scratching side project that is interwoven throughout, the filmmaker tries to recreate and celebrate classic images of his mother with various young models. In one of the more memorable moments here, a visiting Lauren Hutton refuses to accommodate Barzini’s insistent presence, shooing him from the room so that she can talk with his mother. The Disappearance of My Mother is a strange cinematic pas de deux that is alternately intriguing and banal but ultimately remains cryptic. Extras include audio commentary by film curator Eric Hynes, as well as deleted scenes. A strong optional purchase. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)