Opens Fri., April 9
To understand what to expect from the Italian Mid-August Lunch—which concerns a fiftysomething who winds up caring for four elderly women—it’s first important to establish what it isn’t. It’s not a tear-jerky tissue-soiler. It’s not a comedy that turns sad in the final reels. It’s not a tribute to the elderly. It doesn’t end with any (or all) of the four geriatrics dying. It’s not a wacky comedy, even of the cute, easily exportable “international cinema” variety. And though it sometimes, very briefly, feels like one, it’s not a farce. So if it is none of these things, what is it? Is there anything left for it to be about?
What does wind up comprising Mid-August Lunch is more the provence of short films than feature-length. Somewhere in the awkward middle—minus credits, the film clocks in at under 75 minutes—the film has a set-up that would make both Georges Feydeau and Adam Sandler smile. Cheerfully unemployed, middle-aged slakcer Gianni (writer- director-star Gianni di Gregorio) spends his days guzzling wine and caring for his nanogenarian mother and roommate (Valeria de Franciscis). Owing plenty back-rent, he makes a deal with his already-understanding landlord: While he heads out for his traditional Italian mid-August vacation, Gianni will look over his decaying mama. And maybe his mother’s friend, too, while he’s at it. Then Gianni’s doctor gets the same idea.
With the plot laid, Mid-August Lunch proceeds to offer ... not much, really. The ladies chatter with each other. Gianni makes them dishes, eventually adjusting for their dietary and medical conditions. At one point one of them sneaks off to a bar, and later another absconds with the macaroni casserole. Di Gregorio, making his directorial debut, previously served as one of the six writers of the mafia saga Gomorrah, which crammed an entire season’s worth of HBO-quality television into a multiplex-friendly feature. This souffle is its diametrical opposite, as happily lazy as its central caretaker. Or is it? Intentionally slack plotting aside, it’s no small feat to bottle up the film’s mixture of tones, which is at once low-key and harried—again, just like its central caretaker. The handheld camerawork and natural lighting add a roughness to a film that’s already mostly devoted to chattering geriatrics (all nonpro, all uniquely fantastic), all while di Gregorio—who’s only acted once, in 1998’s Guests—holds it together with his leathery face and his permanetly dazed expression. Don’t underestimate slightness done right.
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