Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch

MID-AUGUST LUNCH / Pranzo di Ferragosto
(Gianni Di Gregorio, 2009, Italy, 75 mins.)

Mellowing the hours.

Matteo Garrone, the man behind Gomorrah, presents a different side of Italy in co-writer Gianni Di Gregorio's Mid-August Lunch (this lend-a-brother-a-hand move recalls David Lynch's presentation of Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?).

Garrone's sprawling film was set in and around a Mob-infested housing complex, while Di Gregorio's gentle comedy takes place in a working-class condominium. The writer-turned-filmmaker plays Gianni, a Roman bachelor who looks after and reads
to his 93-year-old mother (Valeria De Franciscis), an Alexandre Dumas enthusiast.

When the building manager (Alfonso Santagata) offers to cut him a break if he'll take in his mother (Marina Cacciotti) for the weekend, Gianni has no choice but to agree. Short on cash, he can't afford the repairs the condo board wants him to make.

"Have a drink. It calms everything."

Gianni's mother, frail but sharp, gives her assent and gets dolled up for the occasion. Without checking, Alfonso also brings his Aunt Maria (Maria Calì). So while he goes off on a trip to the country with his girlfriend, Gianna is stuck inside a condo with three old ladies in the midst of a heatwave. Things otherwise get off to a good start.

A sleepy-eyed gent in a plaid apron, Gianni willingly cooks and cleans for the trio,
but then his doctor (Marcello Ottolenghi) asks him to add his mother, Grazia (Grazia Cesarini Sforza), to the mix while he works the night shift, so three becomes four, including one who takes a different medication every few hours and gets violent headaches from dairy products (none of this, incidentally, plays out as farce).

In short order, Valeria, who doesn't want to eat with the others, asks for her tel-
evision back, and Maria pouts. The other ladies have their own not-unreasonab-
le requests, and the selfless Gianni does his level best to address each one.

During the night, though, one of the four disappears, and Gianni learns that his
responsibility to the ladies and to their relations are at cross purposes. Basical-
ly, he's supposed to keep them in line, but each woman has a mind of her own.

By the end, his perspective has changed. Fortunately, no one has to fall sick or drop dead for this shift to occur. Di Gregorio avoids easy tears and cheap laughs, which might make Mid-August Lunch too subtle for some, but it's a welcome antidote to the parade of pictures that present old age with fear, distaste, or contempt.

Mid-August Lunch opens at the Guild 45th (1303 NE 45th St.) on Fri., 4/30. For
more information please call 206-633-5545 or click here. Image from OutNow!

Update: The film has been held over through Thurs., 5/13.

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