February 06, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

It takes skill these days, if not nerve, to put a vital, happy nuclear family on screen and to invite us to share in every quiet tremor, every gentle jostle and smile of their steady, deep-flowing contentment. The Son’s Room was directed and cowritten by the Italian filmmaker and actor Nanni Moretti (”Caro Diario”), who has given himself the role of an affectionate father and urbane professional shrink who presides over a wife and two teenage children, enveloping them in the same deceptively passive concern with which he counsels his psychiatric patients. He supports, and heals, less by what he says than by what he doesn’t say.

Moretti, whose eyes glitter with knowledge from within a bland, bearded, professorial face, is the rare common-man artist who’s wise enough to recognize that there are few things in this world more complex — and, as it turns out, more fragile — than happiness. A tragedy occurs, as tragedy sometimes will, and without giving what happens away, I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the film’s remarkable similarity, and also its remarkable contrast, to ”In the Bedroom.” In ”The Son’s Room,” loss gives rise to sorrow, rage, tenderness, and the inexplicable feeling that hope is no longer possible. Except that there is no catharsis here, only a heartfelt exploration of the means by which happiness repairs itself.

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