Cannes Hidden Gem: 'Troppa Grazia' Portrays Divine Intervention, Italian Style

Directors Fortnight Stills - Troppa grazia - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Cannes

Gianni Zanasi’s Directors’ Fortnight entry offers a quirky tale of a possibly divine being who encourages a timid woman to take control of her life.

While Italian director Gianni Zanasi can’t claim to ever seeing the Madonna himself, he says the idea for his new film, Troppa Grazia, which closes Directors’ Fortnight on May 18, came to him like an apparition. An image of a woman walking through a large shopping mall popped into his head. He then envisioned this woman entering an electronics store, where she has an encounter with the Madonna, who is standing among the television sets.

“The Madonna gives her specific directions, but she is afraid and doesn’t want to do what she says. I laughed a lot from this image,” says Zanasi, 52, adding that he was so amused by the premise, he built an entire feature around it.

Alba Rohrwacher plays Lucia, a single mother facing trouble at home, at work and in love. She is employed as a land surveyor and is tasked with planning the site of a grand, new building project. She soon finds multiple mistakes in the maps given to her by the municipality, rendering the site full of geological risks. But she is afraid to speak up for fear of losing her job.

Hadas Yaron plays the part of the mysterious character who might or might not be the Madonna and who regularly appears to Lucia out of nowhere to offer advice as a kind of divine life coach.

“It’s her own personal Madonna who is coming to her to say, 'Do something with your life,'" Zanasi says. "Lucia refuses her because she is afraid, like all of us, to lose love, money, success. Fear eats her soul. But the Madonna pushes her to get out of her comfort zone and to start taking control of her own life.”

Rather than emphasize the more whimsical nature of his story, Zanasi says he decided to go in the complete opposite direction. “Everything about the characters are really, really realistic,” he says. “The feelings, the way of life, the economic conditions. I felt that if the Madonna were put in very normal daily life, the apparition would be much more natural and believable — and therefore funny.”

While Italy is known for its very localized humor, Zanasi is convinced that Troppa Grazia — which in English translates as “you’re too generous” — has universal appeal. “I don’t think it’s an Italian comedy,” he says.

“I think it’s a comedy that has been shot in Italy. But it is a very, very strange kind of comedy. Comedy is the most freeing genre. Anything could happen in a comedy.”

And while he admits that the idea of divine intervention might have particular resonance in Catholic Italy, he jokes that one doesn’t have to be a believer to appreciate the film’s message: “There are moments when everyone could use their own personal Madonna.”

A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter's May 10 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.