Mid-August Lunch – Pranzo di ferragosto (Gianni Di Gregorio – 2008)
First time’s a charm may be an old cliché, but there is something fresh and original to creating something for the first time that is clean from preconceptions and risk of repetitions. Not always. Yet, this charmingly sensitive film, which marks the debut of Gianni Di Gregorio as a director, represents one of the pleasant surprises. In fact, Di Gregorio won the 2009 David di Donatello Award for Best New Director (Migliore Regista Esordiente). And this is important as prior to this film, Di Gregorio typically served as an actor and writer collaborating with Director Matteo Garrone on notable films such as 2004 First Love and 2008 Gomorrah.
The story takes us to mid-summer scalding hot Rome, vacant from its residents that are out of town for the annual Ferragosto holiday vacation. The town is left with either old people or relatives that are looking for last moment arrangements for their old family members before escaping.
Di Gregorio plays Gianni, a mid-lifer who lives with his 93 old demanding mother or what in Italian is known as mammone, with no prospects and piling up bills. When the landlord stops by to collect the late rent, this sour lemon appears to turn quickly into lemonade. The deal is simple: the landlord will forget the rent and throw in some expenses cash if Gianni will take care of the landlord’s mother and aunt, while he leaves town in a convertible full of food delicacies, including a young lover.
Gianni and his guests
Gianni reluctantly takes up the offer to ease up his debt burden and from then on becomes the cook and care taker of five old ladies (their first time acting gig!) each carrying her own and often conflicting agenda. This opens up on one hand a stream of comic relief moments, but at the same time sheds light on the dour life of the elderly. From this perspective it reminded me of an early masterpiece from the Neorealism genre that dealt with same issue, but from a more dramatic angle: Vittorio De Sica’s 1952 Umberto D., dedicated to his father.
The film also offers a tempting display of fine Italian cuisine dishes Gianni constantly produces to care for his guests. So be sure to watch the film after having sufficient nutrients.