The First Beautiful Thing
Directed by Paolo Virzi
For a movie that takes place in the breathtaking Tuscan countryside and focuses on heartwarming family relations, The First Beautiful Thing certainly lacks in "beautiful moments," though it largely makes up for this with cheese. Lots of it.
The film opens in 1971 at a local beauty pageant during which Bruno (later played by Valerio Mastandrea) is horrified as his mother appears on stage to be wooed by a bunch of lecherous middle-aged men. His father apparently shares his sentiment, as a domestic dispute later sends Anna (Micaela Ramazzotti and, in the present-day, Stefania Sandrelli), the young mother in question, fleeing into the night with her children.
Flash forward several years, skipping past Bruno's melancholy though by no means traumatic childhood, and Anna is dying of cancer. As the family gathers around her bedside, all sorts of emotions are projectile-vomited out into the open. Bruno, who is apparently estranged from his mother and now a drug-addled professor, attempts to reconcile their apparent differences before she kicks the bucket. Hugging, sobbing, and emoting are the three primary verbs for the duration of the two-hour runtime.
La Prima Cosa Bella is clearly fixated on the Italian obsession with the ethereal "mother" figure, but never provides any particularly good reason for Bruno's animosity. Anna, in most of the plentiful flashbacks the movie slings at the viewer, is admittedly slightly neglectful—frequently leaving her children alone while she goes to pursue a career as a movie star and being slightly aloof in general—but otherwise seems like a caring, compassionate parent. For every questionable decision, there is a scene of Anna consoling and caring for her children. Her condemnation by adult Bruno thus lacks realistic context, even as the too-frequently skipping chronology blunts the film's focus—the meaty present-day drama is lost in the sauce of flashbacks.