Genova - Crosstown traffic

Genova - Crosstown traffic

Michael Winterbottom’s new film Genova makes the city the star once more. It’s about time says Paul Dale

Let’s talk about cities. Those Rousseau-ian abysses, those human zoos, those deserts of loneliness. The modern city and cinema have always had a special relationship, one that after years of abuse has been reduced to hand gestures and cliché. The iconographic identities of London, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo (among many others) were not forged amongst the tar pits, scaffolding and metal joist swinging cranes of post war regeneration but in the picture houses. All those cities we never quite got around to visiting? It doesn’t matter – we have walked their boulevards with our eyes.

Unsurprisingly, Michael Winterbottom’s new film, Genova is about a city. It’s about that beautiful Ligurian (and Celt) stronghold we know as Genoa. But more importantly than that, it is a film that seems to respond and channel the city it is set in.

Genova is the hypnotic tale of widower Joe (Colin Firth) and his relocation to the Italian city with his two young daughters. As the older teenage daughter finds solace in the attentions of the local boys, the younger one starts to see her dead mother. Written by Wonderland writer Laurence Coriat, Genova is a fascinating film and one of the very few that uses the mystery of coincidence and the supernatural to create a portrait of a living breathing city. Using Nic Roeg’s brilliant 1973 film Don’t Look Now as an all too obvious template, Winterbottom treads that fine line between horror and enigma, between terror and inscrutability. Like Roeg’s film, Genova is full of moments and scenes that suggest irrational forces, albeit forces that are always tempered by the delusions of grief.

Genova got me thinking about cities in film, not just as a backdrop, but those films where the city is the oracle and key to it all, a cryptogram of concrete and glass. I thought about San Francisco in Hitchcock’s Vertigo – the city seems empty, postmodern and soaked with some kind of eroto-manic spume. Or the Paris of Godard’s 1964 Bande à part, the Quai Fernand Saguet river paths become a Huckleberry Finn type character to our bipolar detectives. Or Saigon in Anh Hung Tran’s remarkable 1995 film Cyclo, the city every bit as riveted and busted as Tony Leung’s mad bad gangster. Fellini’s Rome in La Dolce Vita virtually gets given its own trailer and Seattle beats like Divine’s diseased heart in Alan Rudolph’s criminally underrated coffee shop noir Trouble in Mind. New York, or the demographic of it that used to have all the money, is easily best served by its brooding, pulsing representation in Jonathan Glazer’s grief and psychosis drama Birth (a film that shares blood ties with Genova). No one, however, has done more city rights than Wim Wenders and photographer Henri Alekan in Wings of Desire. Berlin emerges reborn from Le Carre’s infamous garrison of spies, rat pipers and cloaks and becomes the real city of angels – ethereal, beautiful and far from those Hollywood hills.

Genova, selected release from Fri 27 Mar.


  • 4 stars
  • 2008
  • UK
  • 1h 33min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
  • Written by: Laurence Coriat, Michael Winterbottom
  • Cast: Colin Firth, Catherine Keener, Hope Davis

Following the sudden death of his wife, uptight Brit professor Jo (Firth) moves his daughters to the Italian city of Genoa to start a new life. As they settle in, the labyrinthine baroque city begins to have a peculiar effect on each of them, and then the youngest Mary (Haney-Jardine) starts seeing dead people. Slow…