Mid-August Lunch (Zeitgeist Films, NR)

Gianni has settled into the role of dutiful son and maintains a mood somewhere between resignation and cheer

Ferragosto is an ancient Roman tradition. In the days of Emperor Augustus, it was a late-summer celebration of the end of the agricultural season in which everyone ate too much, drank too much and carried on too much. So popular was this holiday that, rather than try to ban it, the Church turned the peak day of the festival, August 15, it into a Holy Day of Obligation celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, Romans opt for something between those two extremes and celebrate Ferragosto by going on holiday and leaving the tourists to deal with the summer heat.
But Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio, who also directed and wrote the screenplay) won’t be getting out of town this year. He’s middle-aged, unemployed and living with his aged mother (Valeria De Franciscis) in an apartment in the working-class district of Trastevere. This is not an existence most people would choose, but Gianni has settled into the role of dutiful son and maintains a mood somewhere between resignation and cheer as he does the cooking, tends to Mom, and enjoys perhaps a few more glasses of white wine than is good for him.
There’s just one problem: Gianni is several years behind on the rent and faces eviction. Building manager Luigi (Alfonso Santagata) suggests a solution: If Gianni is willing to take care of Luigi’s mother (Marina Cacciotti) over Ferragostoso so Luigi can get out of town with his girlfriend, all debts will be forgiven.
Fair enough, although Gianni is a bit surprised to see Luigi turn up the next day with not only his mother but also his aunt (Maria Calì). The household increases yet again when Gianni’s physician Marcello (Marcello Ottolenghi) convinces Gianni to take care of his mother (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) for a day or two, as well. Just like that the spacious apartment has turned into a temporary senior citizen’s home and Gianni is reduced to sleeping on a deck chair. But it’s OK; after some typical sibling/summer camp squabbles (who gets the TV, who picks the menu), everyone gets sorted out and learns to enjoy each other’s company, even marking the big day with a celebratory feast.
Mid-August Lunch is at once both simple and profound. The story and production are as plain as can be. The screenplay is based on Di Gregorio’s experiences caring for his widowed mother, and the film was shot in his apartment using handheld cameras and natural light. It’s also Di Gregorio’s first film as director (he’s best known for writing the screenplay to Gomorrah), yet he draws wonderfully unfussy performances from his nonprofessional cast and with the simplest of means produces a film which feels so natural that it seems to be capturing real life on celluloid.
The heart of Mid-August Lunch is a tribute to the simple pleasures in life: a glass of wine, a good meal, conversation with friends. It’s already won a number of international awards, including the Satyajit Ray Award at the London Film Festival and Best Film at the Venice Film Festival, and offers the perfect antidote to loud, pointless CGI-enhanced action flicks which will be prevalent on American screens this summer. A word to the wise: If you go to see Mid-August Lunch, be sure to stick around for the credit sequence, which could give Slumdog Millionaire a run for the money in the dance department. | Sarah Boslaugh

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