A low-budget movie about a morose middle-aged man lumbered with the task of looking after four old ladies over a sweltering bank holiday – the set-up for Mid-August Lunch hardly sounds enticing. Yet this intimate little movie is an unexpected delight: sweet, gentle, and surprisingly life affirming – a film that raises your spirits even while making you contemplate mortality.
Mid-August Lunch is the directing debut of Italian screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio, best known as the co-screenwriter of the scalding crime drama Gomorrah. He plays the lead role himself and admits the story was inspired by his own experience of caring for his widowed mother; he even shot the film in the flat in Rome’s Trastevere that he shared with her. The events he portrays, however, only happened in his imagination.
The film’s Gianni is saddled with looking after three other old women, all of them pushing 90, in addition to his mother. It’s the height of summer; everyone wants to get out of the city for the Ferragosto holiday, including several of the hard-up, unemployed Gianni’s friends and creditors, and he finds himself obliged to put up the other women in the flat as favours to them.
At first, the old ladies don’t get along. His mother wants to be alone, one of the women locks herself in her room, and there are disputes over the TV. Meanwhile, Gianni goes shopping and cooks, and patiently deals with medical complaints, eccentricities and tantrums. Gradually, the women come together and bond, and by the end of the stay no one wants to leave.
Compassionate and keenly observed, Mid-August Lunch puts most other cinematic depictions of old age in the shade. There’s no sentimentality or cuteness here, but just imagine what Hollywood would do with similar material. The cast, none of them professional actors, are fantastic, too. Among the DVD extras is a charming featurette that shows Di Gregorio driving about Rome to meet the quartet of women in their homes. They are all feisty and sharp-witted, taking delight in their own accomplishments and the movie’s unexpected success – it won best first feature at Venice in 2008 and the Satyajit Ray award at the London Film Festival the same year.
Released 7th December.
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