THE NANNY (Marco Bellocchio, 1999)

“Solitude will destroy you,” the doctor tells his patient; but, without his knowing it, solitude is destroying the doctor, much as the divide between classes, playing out in clashes between demonstrators and the military in the streets, threatens to undo Italy. Into his posh home, Mori, this psychiatrist, brings Annetta, a peasant, separating her from her own infant with her imprisoned radical lover to nurse his baby, which his wife, Vittoria, has all but rejected soon after giving birth.
     Vittoria abandons her child when she feels inadequate to the task of being a mother; Annetta violates her contract with Mori, sneaking away to nurse her own child so as not to abandon her heart’s ties.
     Rome. It is shortly after the turn of the century; but Marco Bellocchio, inspired by a Luigi Pirandello story, hasn’t concocted a period piece. Rather, La balia unfolds as a dream of the past. When Mori seeks a wet nurse, a flock of young women in the street move into the frame from screen-right, as if appearing from nowhere. Indoors, they are lined up for inspection, naked from the waist up. His colleague warns Mori that Annetta looks pale, but her selection is a foregone conclusion; Mori had earlier noticed her from his carriage—part of a rush of street images suggesting the new art of cinema.
     Bellocchio’s visually very dark film seems to emanate from some collective unconscious as characters grope to understand themselves and others. Mori runs a sanatorium for mentally ill women, making little headway; but patriarchic society liberally imposes the designation “mentally ill” on women the better to manage and control things.
     The doctor comes alive when he starts teaching Annetta how to read. This also leads to his becoming a loving father to his child.


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