The subtle drama of an Italian village
Hitherto best known for co-writing Gomorrah, 60-year-old Gianni di Gregorio makes his directorial debut with this charming tale, which beautifully illustrates Tolstoy’s dictum that ‘To speak to the world, one should write about one’s village’.
The principal setting of Mid-August Lunch is an apartment in the Trastevere district of Rome during a summer holiday weekend. The middle-aged, wine-loving Gianni (di Gregorio himself) lives with his imperious 90-something mother Valeria (Valeria de Franciscis), whom he patiently looks after. This Saturday, however, the building administrator Luigi asks Gianni for a favour: could he take care of his mum Marina (Marina Cacciotti) for 24 hours in return for waiving certain service charges? Marina doesn’t turn up on her own however – she’s with her sister Maria (Maria Cali). And then Gianni’s doctor friend Marcello wonders whether his pal could keep an eye on his mama, Grazia (Grazia Cesarini Sforza).
Theres’s a palpable sense of authenticity to this portrait, created by a combination of the location (a flat that belonged to di Gregorio’s real-life late mother, whom he lived with when she was widowed), the hand-held camerawork, the natural lighting, and the wonderful performances of the predominantly non-professional cast. While acknowledging the vulnerability and loneliness of its elderly characters, di Gregorio celebrates their vitality and playfulness: they bicker and make up, and cheerfully ignore their carer’s suggestions and recommendations. The apron-wearing Gianni is a gentle man whose own ambitions seem to have disappeared, and who appears to muddle through on a day-to-day basis.
Yet what’s refreshing about Mid-August Lunch, and what gives it a political edge in the context of Berlusconi’s meretricious government, is that it celebrates the supposedly ‘simpler’ pleasures in life, such as eating and drinking, companionship, friendship and community. It’s a film that proves that small can indeed be beautiful.
(U) 75min. Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 14 Aug