© 2010 Ray Wong
It's about time I review a foreign film, and I adore Italian films -- Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino remain two of my favorite movies. Although first released in 2008, Pranzo di Ferragosto finally made it to America.
Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) is a middle-aged bachelor who lives with his elderly mother. It's not entirely clear what Gianni does for work, but it's mid-August anyway, and much of Rome is shut down. Gianni adores his mother, but she can be demanding and she needs constant attention from her doting son.
Gianni also hasn't paid a lot of his bills lately. His condominium committee is very angry with him and want him to move out. He hasn't even paid the rent for a few years! His landlord Alfronso (Alfronzo Santagata) visits him and offers a deal: he's going away for a few days on vacation with his much-younger girlfriend, and he needs Gianni to take care of his elderly mother Marina (Marina Cacciotti). Gianni reluctantly agrees, despite the fact he's already taking care of his mother, because Alfronso agrees to waive the money he's owed.
Unexpectedly, Alfronso also dumps his aunt Maria (Maria Cali), who has onset Alzheimer's, onto Gianni. The small apartment becomes incredibly crowded with three elderly women who all have special needs. To complicate matters, his doctor friend Marcello (Marcello Ottolenghi) has to work the night shift and needs Gianni to take care of his mother Grazia (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) for a day. Now five really is company.
The small Italian cast has a very endearing quality about them; they seem genuine, as if they were not actors at all. In fact, some of them really aren't. Actor-writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio (Guests) is natural and genuine as the aging man who has no job, no wife and drinks a little too much. He looks and acts like someone off the street and whom you would like to know. Valeria De Franciscis (The Monster Today) is fantastic as the nagging mother. She's charming and her expressive face is a character all by itself.
Marina Cacciotti is interesting as the self-assured woman (healthy as a rock) who despises her son's pampering -- all she needs is to get out, have a drink and a smoke! She has the slight bitchy edge of Italian women that we've come to love. Maria Cali is quiet and withdrawn as Aunt Maria, and Grazia Cesarini Sforza is endearing as Marcello's mother who is tired of her doctor son's restrictions -- she wants to eat meat and drink wine and go to bed late! Considering this is their first film, these women has done a remarkable job.
Alfronso Santagata (Gomorrah) is nicely pushy as the landlord who knows how to drive a hard bargain and offer a deal Gianni can't refuse. Marcello Ottolenghi is gentle as Gianni's doctor friend. And Luigi Marchetti (Alta marea) is affectionately aimless as Viking.
Written and directed by Di Gregorio, the screenplay is barebone and possibly consists of plenty of improvisation and many of the main actors are not even actors. Di Gregorio even uses their real names as the characters' names. He lays out the premise very early on and then just lets the events unfold. Much of the drama happens when the characters start to interact with each other, with Gianni stuck in the middle. Granted, the set-up is somewhat contrived and forced, but once we get over it, we get to enjoy how these characters play off each other.
This is truly a character-driven, slice of life comedy. The actors (and non-actors) are genuine and their relationships seem real. Di Gregorio manages to use very simple dialogue and situations to convey a very important message without hitting us on the head with it, that life happens and you make the best of it.
It has the scope and feel of a very small, low-budget movie, but the production value is rather good without looking cheap. The cinematography is realistic but can be fantastic sometimes, capturing the beauty and chaos of Rome. Also, the way Di Gregorio uses the tight space, close-ups, and how the camera weaves between the characters makes us feel like we're part of the group, that we're right there with Gianni, that we've been invited to the party. The feeling is one of comfort, amusement, and at times discomfort (as if we were spying on these people).
All in all, Mid-August Lunch is a small, foreign indie film that is inconsequential. It's neither high concept or even thought-provoking, but offers a sweet, interesting glimpse of a slice of life in Rome. It's often amusing, insightful, and simply darned charming. By no means is this fulfilling and gourmet, but quite a light, satisfying lunch it is.
Stars: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Cesarini Sforza, Alfronso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi
Director: Gianni Di Gregorio
Writers: Gianni Di Gregorio, Simone Riccardini
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Running Time: 75 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.7 out of 10