Sometimes a film is so simple, genuine and warm-hearted that it completely wraps the audience in its charms. You don't want the movie to end, to force you to re-enter the realities of life. Mid-August Lunch is a film that causes these sorts of feelings. Mid-August Lunch is a pleasant, intimate journey to Italy and when it's over, it's over all too quickly.
Mid-August Lunch is set in a quiet neighborhood in Rome. Tourists wander around with maps on the cobblestone streets. The stores are small and run tabs for the locals. People sit in the sun sipping wine and talking about the day behind them and the day in front of them. It's seemingly a stress-free environment, but everything isn't as calm as it first appears for Gianni.
Gianni is a middle-aged man who lives at home as the caretaker for his elderly mother. He reads to her as she falls asleep, he gets up in the middle of the night when she calls, he does the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Gianni's days are spent with tasks related to Mom, and the condo they share. Each day bleeds into the next day's routine.
Gianni owes money to the grocer, and it's his debt that makes for complications as Gianni agrees to take in another elderly woman to erase maintenance fees at the condo. Mom and son agree to graciously welcome the newcomer as if their guest is a family member, but suddenly one guest becomes two, two guests become three. The condo is suddenly cramped with four elderly women that Gianni has to look after.
When he's with the guests or his mom, Gianni keeps a smile on his face despite the increasing difficulty the women become. One woman has a very complicated dietary and medical routine that Gianni has to adhere to. Another woman is moody, locks the door in sullen silence or disappears from the condo without informing anyone she's left. Another is prone to complaints about Gianni's choice of noodles and other cooking matters. All the extra duties, mouths to feed and personalities make Gianni slightly harried when alone.
Mid-August Lunch has a slow natural rhythm to it that builds as it unfolds. Gianni is such an amiable, welcoming character that the audience can't help but to feel empathy regarding the situation suddenly thrust upon him. He's still likable even if he does drink a little too much wine throughout the day and doses the ladies evening tea with sleeping aids to make the night more passable. Who can blame the poor guy for wanting a peaceful smoke on the terrace in the dead of night with all these chattering, demanding women around him?
The film develops a genuine intimacy between the characters due to its realistic dialogue and enclosed apartment setting. As the condo fills up with elderly women, the movie and the relationships become more comfortable. It feels wonderfully authentic, like we are spending a few hours in company of these people in Rome.
Mid-August Lunch's warm spirit can be traced to a couple of key elements -- the dialogue and the actors. The dialogue is chock full of the everyday patter of Italian. It's comforting. Gianni is played by the film's writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio (who also penned the vastly different epic crime film from 2008 Gomorra) and the cast includes Di Gregorio's aunt and other women who had never acted. The non-actors and the familiar, everyday tone of the film create chemistry on the screen that just feels right from the first scene to the last.
My only complaint with the film is its running time of 73 minutes. That happens to be the length of a drawn-out lunch itself at times. Despite all the nice things the movie has to offer, the brevity creates a bit of a feeling not being fulfilled when it ends. Like the characters in the film, who want their visit to linger on, so does the audience. A few more minutes with these people would have made a more satisfying experience.
It's a shame that Mid-August Lunch wasn't delayed to open in Tulsa a few weeks as it is a perfect movie to go watch with your mom on Mother's Day, or your aunts, grandma or any older relatives. A nice brunch and a group matinee screening of the film would be a fun way to spend some bonding time with family.
Mid-August Lunch is a pleasant diversion for a short spell. The movie has a big heart, and it's full of sweet-natured scenes relating to family, friendship and "Italianness." Authentic and personal, it made me feel as if I just spent the night in a cramped condo with a bunch of elderly ladies. If only I could have stayed a little longer.
Mid-August Lunch opens at Circle Cinema on Friday, April 16.
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