Friday, May 18, 2012

Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto)

2008, 75 min., NR - nothing offensive, not even mild language, one hernia check might cause questions from youngsters.
IMDB says... Gianni is a middle-aged man living in Rome with his imposing and demanding elderly mother. His only outlet from her and the increasing debt into which they are sinking, are the increasingly frequent quiet sessions at the local tavern. As an Oriental saying goes, 'Moments of crisis are moments of opportunities'. These appear during the celebration of the holiday of Ferragosto on 15 August. That's when everybody leaves town to have fun. Opportunity knocks on Gianni's door in the most unexpected way,Written by Warsaw Film Festival 

The 73rd Virgin says... The accordion music is an early clue. You are watching a quaint art-house movie. Accept no substitutes. Since it's under the bright Roman sun, this seems to celebrate the everyday rhythms of life rather than focus on their drabness. There  is something admirable about going to a liquor store for two bottles of wine, and getting another glassful to drink outside.

It's the holiday of Ferragosto in Rome when everyone gets out of town to escape the heat. Given the death spiral demographics of Italy where 100 grandparents have about 50 grandchildren, it can be a problem figuring out where to dump grandma for a few days.

Gianni is a somewhat lazy, even-tempered 60-ish bachelor - fond of wine - who lives with his ancient, good-natured but demanding mother in a Rome condominium. We learn nothing of his father or the remainder of their family. There is really no reminiscing. Here he reads from The Three Musketeers and she instantly bonks off to sleep.

They are years behind on their condo association fees and euros behind at the grocery store. Gianni is not overly put-out by the arrangement. He has a job, which is taking care of Mom and holding off the creditors. But the condo association wants to sue him and the condo administrator wants to get out of town with his family, which turns out to consist of one suspiciously leggy female, and he needs to deposit his mother for the holiday, so he and Gianni find a way to help each other.

Of course, it will quickly get more complicated by an unannounced additional guest. And Gianni needs a house call from his doctor to check his chest pains and hernia. And the doctor needs a favor.

With this set up, we begin Gianni’s roughly 48-hour adventure with these old bitties. They are at first friendly, then standoff-ish with each other, then demanding of Gianni. One of them wanders off for a drink then in a funny scene gets frisky when Gianni brings her home. There are arguments about who gets the TV, etc. Grazia dutifully listens to her son the doctor's dietary restrictions then happily dives into a buttery macaroni and cheese as soon as he leaves. In a rather affecting scene, Grazia turns out to be one of those elderly who, when they can't sleep, go into a stream of consciousness, while Gianni finally gives up and moves his patio chair into her room to sleep.

The “tone” of Gianni’s conversations with his mother is recognizable and realistic, regardless of the actual circumstances. Gianni Di Gregorio wrote the screenplay, stars and directs, so one can imagine he didn't have to stretch too far.

After an exhausting night, Gianni wakes up late to find that he is now hardly needed. As female mammals around the world are wont to do, they have formed an instant society and only need him to cook occasionally and stay out of the way. He brings in his very odd friend "Viking", sort of an Italian non-singing cross between Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan, to help with the cooking, and the ladies begin to eyeball him.

As the holiday ends and Gianni begins making the calls to come get the old dears off his hands, they plead with him to delay as long as possible, and, in a fine quiet scene, hand him the one thing he most deserves and needs.

Overall, this feels a little thin. There are many hyperventilatory reviews regarding the food preparation scenes. I wasn't blown away. Without heavy lifting, I can think of half a dozen better foodie movies.

The movie is charming enough and a little wise. But no wiser than most of the middle-aged people who will see it. Almost all of us have had a holiday with older relatives that required several additional swigs from the wine glass to get through. There is no antagonist, no crisis, almost no conflict, no resolution other than new friendships, and Gianni is no better off. The limited power of the movie rests with the natural acting of the old ladies - Di Gregorio found them around his native Rome - and in Di Gregorio's placid demeanor. Despite his stifling life, he is an adult and not ungenerous. He plays it perfectly.

P.S. This was supposed to be my big Mothers Day review and I've been kicking it around since February. Deadlines just kept slipping. So Happy Mothers Day.

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