A novel take on one of the oldest story devices in all of literature.
In many coming-of-age stories, there is often some terrifying, physical challenge that the protagonist must overcome as a rite of passage. Sometimes, it is fairly ordinary, as with the basement furnace grate in Home Alone; other times, it feels truly dangerous, such as the snake pit in Mud or, for those more epically-inclined, Harry Potter’s walk to the forest to face Voldemort at the climax of the series’ story on both print and screen. From a storytelling perspective, the crux is this: if the protagonist is not yet an adult, then she should face some scary, concretely corporeal obstacle in the final act.
Daughter of Mine provides a worthwhile twist on this most primordial trope. In the film, there are three co-protagonists: nine-year-old Vittoria (Sara Casu), her mother Tina (Valeria Golino) and another woman named Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher). There is also a looming physical challenge for the child character which will serve as an initiation. The twist, however, regards for whom Vittoria’s act of courage represents a rite of passage; is it her, Tina, Angelica or some combination of the three of them?
Early in Daughter of Mine, it is revealed that while Tina has raised Vittoria since birth as if she were the girl’s mother, her actual biological mother is, in fact, Angelica. This has never presented a problem because Angelica is the local lush in the small Sardinian fishing village they all share and has never shown any interest in motherhood or her offspring. Tina provides her with some money and she drinks her way through her days. But now, she is being evicted and will have to move to the mainland; not only has Tina’s sponsorship not saved her home, but Angelica has decided she also wants to see her daughter before she departs. When Vittoria meets Angelica, they forge a nearly instant connection.
This establishes a nontraditional sort of love triangle between Vittoria and her two mothers. While the girl simply relishes the excitement of getting to know Angelica, both adult women completely botch their attempts to adjust to this new paradigm. Tina falls into despair and lashes out both cruelly and rashly. Angelica is caught in between preparing to leave the island and soaking up her daughter’s attention. She is also scheming to use her daughter to access a fabled treasure supposedly worth millions hidden in a tiny crevice in Sardinia’s ancient Necropolis.
Both Tina and Angelica reveal the selfish roots of their various interactions with Vittoria near the end of the film. Tina wants Vittoria to see that Angelica is a sexually-deviant, alcohol-numbed loser, while Angelica reveals that all of the quality time she was spending with Vittoria was meant to prepare her to explore the Necropolis to find the hidden loot. In response to both women’s bad behavior, Vittoria flees into the countryside, at a loss for how to respond to the disingenuous actions of her mother figures.
Ultimately, that tiny, scary hole in the Sardinian desert, at the base of the Necropolis, becomes a rite of passage for the characters in Daughter of Mine. Vittoria’s bravery in overcoming that physical obstacle establishes the climax of the story and completes the transformations of all three protagonists. It is a novel take on one of the oldest story devices in all of literature.