Mom + Mom (Mamma + Mamma)

Italy (2018) Dir. Karole Di Tommaso

In a world where LGBT rights is a thorny issue it is quite surprising to learn that Italy is one of the countries resisting positive legislation for this community. Perhaps it shouldn’t given it is home of Catholicism but Italy’s reputation as a gay friendly country (not to mention a romantic one) does make this somewhat hard to digest.

Lesbian couple Karole (Linda Caridi) and Ali (Maria Roveran) are very much in love and want to have a baby but with adoption only permitted to heterosexual married couples, the alternative is IVF, though this also isn’t allowed. This means having to travel abroad which costs money, leaving them to struggle to finance the trip to a clinic in Spain and the preparation for when the baby is born.

From the synopsis, one would infer this is a film with designs to challenge Italy’s archaic attitudes towards the LGBT community and galvanise opinion and action in response. Instead, none of this opprobrium and determination actually appears in Mom + Mom, with only the merest hint of any commentary on the subject featuring in the dialogue or through major scenes.

Quite what Karole Di Tommaso was hoping achieve with her debut therefore remains a mystery, though we shouldn’t discredit the film entirely on this basis, not that it isn’t without flaws. With scant information about the film and Di Tommaso available online, I can only speculate if the shared name between the director and one of the protagonists means there is an autobiographical slant to it or not.

The story really wants to explore the struggles and obstacles a same sex female couple in modern Italy face when wanting to have a child but only scratches the surface of what they endure. Whilst the biggest drawback is courtesy of the legal system which openly discriminates against gay couples of both genders, they is no directed contact with this for our hopeful couple, just something mention in conversation.

Seemingly from different backgrounds, the main objection comes from the narrow minds of Karole’s family in the country (she and Ali live in the city), many not even aware she is gay. A priest (possibly a relative or a close family friend) it isn’t clearly established) angrily tells Karole she is committing a sin using IVF, whilst the only voice of reason is Karole’s elderly grandfather who is supportive.

Ali is the one who is going to be fertilised leaving Karole to assume the “male” role in the process and be the breadwinner. There is a male presence in their life, Ali’s ex-boyfriend Andrea (Andrea Tagliaferri) who lives with them in their cramped apartment. Andrea has a new girlfriend but as a film extra, his fortunes are rare so he leeches off the girls to Karole’s annoyance as she is trying to save money.

Making things confusing is the various flights of surreal fancy that distort the narrative and the timeline. The film actually begins with Ali and Karole out walking with a pram then Karole notices the baby is not there and runs off in a panic and continues to make little sense after that. This sets up the assumption of it being an arthouse film but it really isn’t for the most part, though these quirky moments relating to Karole’s inner doubts are frequent.

Elsewhere there are some light comedy moments, which fits the film’s generally gentle tone but this isn’t really a comedy either, nor is it a heavy drama, leaving us to wonder what it is supposed to be. In challenging societal norms and standing up for the LGBT community this isn’t much of a clarion call, perhaps suggesting Di Tommaso didn’t want to cause too much of a stir. So she focuses instead on highlighting their plight but is still quite polite about it.    

Luckily, Karole and Ali make for a personable couple, Karole more so as she is given the most to do thus is the one we invest in the most. Despite moments of exasperation, Karole maintains her poise, focus, and humour throughout, never losing sight of why she is doing what she is, leaving Ali do to the stressing as eventual incubator. But because Ali is the less featured one, we aren’t given much reason to gauge how she is feeling and what concerns she may or may not have.

Despite being a bit of a leech, Andrea is lot more develop than Ali, his role most comedic than disruptive though again, the nature of their continued relationship for someone with his manly ego is not explained. Speaking of comedy, one amusing scene, but not in the traditional sense, is Karole being allowed to perform the insemination, which is shot from the perspective of her looking in between Ali’s splayed legs, funny because of Karole’s facial expression.

It is the earnestness of the cast, especially the bubbly Linda Caridi, that make it worth  lasting the whole brisk 76-minute run, whilst Di Tommaso is no slouch as a director either. Vividly painting a breezy but conflicted portrait of modern Italy through well-shot visuals, including the ill-placed oneiric inserts, we find ourselves part of their world, but not so much through the script.

With such a vital and topical issue at hand, there is too much restraint in not tackling it head on that prevents it from making a difference. Italy doesn’t even allow gay marriage and their laws on adoption are inconsistent, permitting same sex couple to adopt their partner’s children or foster children, but recognising gay men as fathers to children sired by a surrogate with their own sperm has yet to be approved.

Since none of this is discussed or features in Mom + Mom and because the run time is so short, can realistically be seen as a swift, fluffy distraction, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, instead of the hard-hitting and urgent piece of cinema it could have been given the gravity and pertinence of its subject matter.