By Don Simpson | April 18, 2010
Director: Gianni Di Gregorio
Writer: Gianni di Gregorio, Simone Riccardini.
Starring: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Nazan Kırılmış
Written and directed by Gianni Di Gregorio (co-writer of 2008’s Gomorrah), Mid-August Lunch features Di Gregorio as the financially-strapped Gianni who resides with his 93-year-old mother (Valeria De Franciscis) in a condominium in Trastevere, a working-class district of Rome. Gianni has fallen behind on their condo payments – it seems Gianni might be unemployed – and the building manager (Alfonso Santagata) blatantly takes advantage of Gianni’s situation. In exchange for taking care of his elderly mother (Marina Cacciotti) and aunt (Maria Cali) – so he can sneak away in his convertible for a mid-August vacation with his youthful signorina – the building manager will waive Gianni’s mounting housing debts. Then, in lieu of payment for a medical house-call, a doctor (Marcello Ottolenghi) convinces Gianni to baby-sit his mom (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) during the mid-August holiday.
It is August and, like the doctor and building manager, most Italians have headed for the sun-drenched relaxing milieu of the countryside or coast to celebrate the approaching Feast of the Assumption (in Italian: “Pranzo Di Ferragosto”); but Gianna finds himself stranded in a nearly evacuated Rome, juggling the care of four feisty aged women in his cozy little condo-turned-nursing home. Gianno drowns his stresses and sorrows in glass after glass of white wine and distracts himself in preparing meal after meal for his finely wrinkled guests.
Di Gregorio is aptly able to show sympathy towards all of his characters while also revealing the hypnotic rhythms of the women’s geriatric conversation. There is no action, no narrative twist, no climax; Mid-August Lunch is merely a subtle yet beautiful ode to humanity’s aging process and unavoidable mortality (it can also be read as a commentary on unemployment and social class). Very few Hollywood films deal so honestly and forwardly with aging – a story that most filmgoers can actually relate to in one way or another. (I suspect Hollywood does not want to remind us of our own aging and the stresses that come along with aging family members.)
Inspired by Di Gregorio’s own experience of looking after his widowed mother during her final years, Mid-August Lunch is set in Di Gregorio’s own condo and propogated by a cast comprised almost entirely of non-professionals. Shot guerrilla documentary-style with a hand-held camera utilizing only natural light, Mid-August Lunch is a supreme feat of grainy minimalist cinema. Di Gregorio is single-handedly resurrecting the Italian cinematic tradition of Neo-Realism of De Sica, Fellini, Rossellini and Visconti. Mid-August Lunch also serves up a modest cinematic feast for foodies and cinefiles alike playing in the mouth-watering tradition of Babette’s Feast, Big Night and Julie and Julia.