Two very different women in a sleepy small town, bound by a shared secret … if that sounds like a Lifetime movie, or even a delicious Douglas Sirk melodrama, Daughter of Mine, from director Laura Bispuri, is anything but. It’s a compelling, naturalistic tale of motherhood and mother love, with a memorable young girl, Vittoria (Sara Casu), at the center of a stormy, primal relationship.
Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) keeps horses in a barn adjacent to her squalid house in the hills of Sardinia. She’s the local good time girl, exchanging sexual favors for drinks with slovenly men in the local bar and sometimes sleeping on the floor of the barn like a feral cat. With her unkempt blonde hair and chiseled features, Rohrwacher looks like a young Meryl Streep with a slatternly charisma. She’s the opposite of her hardworking, church-going friend Tina (Valeria Golino) who lives in the fishing village nearby with her husband Umberto. They help the financially strapped Angelica as much as they’re able but with increasing resentment.
It’s not surprising that Tina’s 10-year-old daughter Vittoria is drawn to free-spirited Angelica, who wear short-shorts as she dances with abandon to rock and roll blasting from the radio in her truck and gives Vittoria a pair of hoop earrings. With her cascading red curls and pale complexion, it’s obvious Vittoria looks nothing like dark-haired Tina and the swarthy Umberto. Vittoria suspects that there is a secret that bonds her mom and dad, with a hint of danger and fear, to wild child Angelica.
The film unfolds with an immediacy as raw as its setting, a sprawling, hardscrabble landscape filled with animals and humans that need taming and tending. Bispuri creates a complex, tough and tender portrait of two women struggling to hold onto themselves and what little they have in a place as unforgiving as the earth and sea around them. With dynamic performances by the leads, Daughter of Mine powerfully examines the ties that bind and the age-old question of what it means to be a good mother.