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Venice Film Festival, Settimana della Critica
“Mid-August Lunch” by Gianni Di Gregorio – a former AD of Matteo Garrone’s and co-screenwriter of “Gomorrah,” among others films – is a gem whose intelligent, gentle, deadpan humor is entirely irresistible. The fact that Garrone produced the picture will help it internationally, and hopefully earn it much-deserved arthouse releases. Despite a low budget, simple production values and a set of characters plucked straight from the streets of Rome, this is a film that the broadest of audiences can enjoy.
Using a style similar to that of Garrone – handheld camerawork, non-professional actors, hyper-naturalistic performances – Di Gregorio tells the semi-autobiographical story of Gianni, a middle-aged man who lives with his aged, widowed mother (Valeria De Franciscis). Through a humorous turn of events, Gianni (played to perfection by the director) is forced to take care not only of his strong-willed mother during an August holiday, but three other equally fussy elderly women as well.
Perhaps not since the original “Ladykillers” has there been a movie with such stupendous little old ladies. And it is refreshing to see older characters written with so much warmth and respect, their loneliness never once ridiculed or undermined. De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali and Grazia Cesarni Sforza have a comic timing so perfect it is hard to believe none of them have acted before. After auditioning professional actresses Di Gregorio wisely opted instead for the above four on the strength of their personalities alone.
Di Gregorio also gently mocks the stereotypical figure of the Italian “mammone,” a man who never gets out from the under the skirts of an overbearing mother. With a drink in hand at all times, Gianni patiently tends to the groceries, cooking and dispensing of medicine in a delightfully amusing battle of the wills that he is doomed to lose from the onset.
“Mid-August Lunch” wonderfully captures Rome’s languid summer days without resorting to postcard images of the city – even the fisherman on the Tiber make an appearance. The soundtrack’s blend of organ music and jazz adds further brio to a story that leaves you chuckling long after it ends.
Production companies: Archimede, RAI Cinema. Cast: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Cesarini Sforza, Alfonso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi. Director: Di Gregorio. Screenwriter: Di Gregorio.
Producer: Matteo Garrone. Director of photography: Gian Enrico Bianchi. Production designer: Susanna Cascella. Music: Ratchev & Carratello. Editor: Marco Spoletini. Sales Agent: Fandango Portobello Sales. 75 minutes.
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