Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Nobel prize-winner Grazia Deledda, “La Madre” tells the story of Paolo, a young priest in a modern suburb of Rome, who for years has devoted himself to his parish work, never making any concessions to his own needs. His working-class mother, Maddalena, morbidly possessive and protective, oversees every aspect of Paolo’s life. She assists her son, gives him advice, constantly protects him from everything she sees as evil.
Then Agnese comes along, a beautiful woman with who Paolo falls hopelessly in love. In his mother’s eyes, she represents a destructive, malignant influence, to be removed as quickly as possible from the life of her son. Paolo seesaws between times of faith and self-denial, when he remembers why he decided to be a priest, and times when he loses his self-control and yields to love and carnal passion.
Maddalena shares the torments of her son, and is increasingly visited and obsessed by the ghosts of the past: the abuse she suffered as a child, her unhappy marriage, the daily grind. Agnese, on the other hand, is young, beautiful and in love, holding out to Paolo the possibility of a life free of duty, light-hearted and carefree.
A triangular relationship, in which the mother sometimes seems to nurse ambiguous feelings towards her son, feelings not purely maternal but of jealousy and envy for the carnal love that has taken hold of Paolo.
All the while, their decisions and actions are influenced by the presence of Another, a severe, impassive God, who seems to crush people, rather than deal compassionately with them. None of them is truly guilty, but all three feel the weight of His presence.
During the night before Easter, the church where Paolo will next day celebrate mass before the whole community is the setting for the tragic, terrible epilogue to this three-cornered story of love and passion.