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Mid-August Lunch

  • Written and directed by Gianni Di Gregorio
  • Starring Gianni Di Gregorio and Valeria De Franciscis
  • Classification: NA

The same Italian filmmaking team behind the explosive 2008 crime drama Gomorrah takes a decidedly different turn with Mid-August Lunch, a droll geriatric comedy set during a Roman holiday in the heat of summer.

Writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio was a scriptwriter on Gomorrah, and the director of that film, Matteo Garrone serves as his producer here. Both films use a lot of hand-held camera work and a largely non-professional cast, but Mid-August Lunch is as dolce as Gomorrah was acido.

Di Gregorio stars as Gianni, a hound-faced middle-aged bachelor who spends all his time taking care of his 93-year-old mother (Valeria De Franciscis), an antique diva in makeup and towering blond wig worthy of a Venetian masquerade.

The opening scene, in a half-lit bedroom as Gianni reads The Three Musketeers to his mother to help her go to sleep, sets the tone: He's her servant, confidante and only companion. Gianni, typically with a glass or bottle in his hand, keeps himself pleasantly anesthetized from his mounting debt and social isolation. His drinking companion, named Viking (Luigi Marchetti), lives in an alley.

As the film starts, many Romans are preparing to leave town to escape the heat and enjoy the Feast of the Assumption holiday, and Gianni and his mother's world finally begins to change.

The condo's building manager, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), shows up with his account books, and a solution to Gianni's debt: If Gianni can take the manager's mother for a couple of days, some of the outstanding condo fees can be forgotten. With no other option, Gianni agrees and the next morning, the manager shows up, not only with his mother, Marina (Marina Cacciotti), but his aunt, Maria (Maria Cali). Gianni watches mournfully from his apartment window as the manager prepares to drive off in his convertible with his mistress. Shortly after, Gianni's doctor seizes the same opportunity: If Gianni can take care of his mother, Grazia (Grazia Cesarini Storza), and keep her on a strict diet for the day, his debts will be absolved.

The rest of this short (75-minute) film consists of Gianni's dealings with the four women, who turn him into their house boy. The women (cast from the director's acquaintances and nursing-home auditions) are strong-willed characters, distinguished by their attitudes toward food and company.

Gianni's mother is initially standoffish, preferring to eat dinner alone in front of the television instead of with her guests. Later, the building manager's blowsy mother gets bored and heads out to a café, where she gets tipsy by herself. The doctor's ever-apologetic mother ignores her diet and stages a midnight refrigerator raid. They gossip, they reminisce, read each other's palms and talk about men and food.

Everything about Mid-August Lunch is simple and unpretentious, from the black-out scene transitions to the folk-dance score, as the four isolated, elderly women, over a couple of days and meals, become a circle of companions.

Along with Gianni, we have the privilege of watching and listening to them.

Mid-August Lunch plays at Vancouver's Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour St.; 604-683-3456) from March 19 to April 1.