With his latest work, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom doffs his cap to the literature of mystery, coincidence and suggestion exemplified in the short stories of WW Jacobs (The Monkey’s Paw), Saki and Daphne Du Maurier.
Following the sudden death of his wife, uptight Brit professor Jo (Colin 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 (Perla Haney-Jardine) starts seeing dead people.
Slow, beautiful, grave and a little bit forbidding Genova is a real oddity for a modern audience. It’s an occult horror without much occult or horror. Answers to questions are left hanging as the film begins to look like the work of an irrational voyeur. It is, however, certainly unsettling and the memory of it does linger.
Elliptically written by Laurence Wonderland Coriat, Genova is the kind of unfathomable material that good actors rush to for the freedoms it will bestow on them and Firth is superb as a grieving husband and bemused father. Willa Holland as his boy-crazy teenage daughter is also a gift of adolescent yearning and unreason. Catherine Keener, Hope Davis are terrific in small but crucial roles and Winterbottom and regular cameraman Marcel Zyskind tackle the northern Italian seaport like hungry tourists caught in a maze.
Cineworld Renfrew Street, Glasgow, Fri 27 Mar. Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 17 Apr.