Mateo Scuro, like his name, is in the dark. Both symbolically and really. With his thick-lens glasses, Mateo looks out at a world that has become distorted by progress, poor eyesight and the reality of being forgotten. A pensioner who has not seen his children in years, Mateo says goodbye to his wife in Sicily and travels to the mainland of Italy to begin a journey to see his five children. He wants to surprise them and so he does not tell them of his plans. But the real surprises are waiting for Mateo.
Traveling from one city to the next, Mateo calls on each child with great anticipation to see the meaningful impact they are having on Italian life. But life quickly hits Mateo squarely between the eyes and forces him to see clearly. Each child is hiding something from their father who does not see well. Their lives are not what they appear to be. They are unhappy working in menial jobs or with their relationships. But their real secret is the crushing blow for a doting father. The youngest son, Alvaro, has committed suicide and none of the others can bring themselves to telling their father the truth.
Toward the end of Tornatore's cinematic statement about the isolation of being forgotten, Mateo and his two surviving sons meet for dinner. His daughters, grandchildren and of course, Alvaro, are not present. This staple of Italian life and joy, the family table, now becomes Mateo's nightmare when he learns of Alvaro's death.
Tornatore is a master of the dream sequence. In the tradition of Fellini and Wertmueller, Tornatore give us insight into Mateo's deepest fears of losing his family through a dream. We see a large, black balloon, with tether ropes hanging down, descend on a beach where Mateo, his wife and children are playing years before. As this balloon descends, picks up his children and carries them away, Mateo runs to them but cannot reach them. He watches them float away into the sky. This foreshadowing of Mateo's life comes to fruition when at the film's end, Mateo is in a hospital room recovering from an episode of what can only be interpreted as the most profound disappointment of all--the loss of one's family.
Upon returning home, the camera is looking into the eyes of Mateo as he recounts to his wife the details of his trip. However as the camera pans back, we see that Mateo is speaking to the headstone of the grave where his wife is buried. As he answers his wife's imagined question of how the children are, Mateo answers, "Stanno tutti bene" (Everyone's fine).
Tornatore uses dream sequences and the symbolism of being out of focus as well as in the dark with masterful irony. These images are driven home with all the force of a sledge hammer as the director takes the viewer, through Mateo, on a journey of anticipated-joys, awakenings and ultimate disillusions.
Mateo's dreams, failing eyesight and loneliness are his steadfast companions through his remaining years. Tornatore paints a picture for the viewer of life as a deception from the most unlikeliest of sources--those we love the most. For Mateo, being in the dark is the best kind of medicine he could hope for--a world where Stanno Tutti Bene.