“Mum, where are you?” Young Massimo runs from one room to the other in a game of hide-and-seek. We watch him from his mother’s hideout as his question gets more frantic and desperate. After an inconsiderate lengthy amount of time, the mom reveals herself and lets him join her in a comforting embrace. This final, dreamy flashback to his childhood bookends Massimo’s emotional odyssey. When Massimo’s childhood comfort is brutally interrupted by the uncanny death of his mother, he’s left alone with a grief he still hasn’t confronted when we meet him again as an adult. Massimo keeps searching for motherly warmth as Marco Bellocchio time-jumps back-and-forth through Massimo’s jostled memories of childhood (Nicolò Cabras), adolescence (Dario Dal Pero) and adulthood (Valerio Mastandrea).
This time juggle is disentangled by Bellocchio’s creation of separate atmospheres. The warm, old softness of his memories of his mother contrasts with the cold and gloomy colors after her passing. Massimo’s anxiety is embodied by his ‘guardian angel’ Belphegor – the hooded female ghost from the sixties’ miniseries Phantom of the Louvre. Images of the woman reappear when Massimo suffers from a panic attack as an adult. Finding solace in the arms of doctor Elisa (Bérénice Bejo), he finally confronts his past. Although this sounds like a complete tear-jerker, Fai bei sogni never melodramatizes. Juxtaposing cynicism with emotional sequences provides comic relief, yet slaps those cynics right in the face; this cynicism only reinforces Bellocchio’s message to open yourself up to love.