Film : Four women and Gianni: A slice of Italian life
Eating well is the best revenge for four Italian ladies of a certain age, who live and dine like queens in Gianni Di Gregorio's amiable 2008 comedy "Mid-August Lunch," ("Pranzo di ferragosto"). The Martha's Vineyard Film Society presents the film Saturday, March 27, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. Di Gregoria, who also wrote the screenplay for the Golden Globe-nominated Mafioso film "Gomorrah," serves up a humorous slice of life in "Mid-August Lunch." The film follows the vagaries of a 50-something bachelor, Gianni, who cares for his 93-year-old mother, Valeria, in the Trastevere district of Rome. When Luigi, the landlord, shows up asking for three years' back rent and utilities, Gianni strikes up a deal.
It's Ferragosto, the August 15 holiday roughly equivalent to Labor Day in the U.S., except in Italy Ferragosto becomes the occasion for taking off the rest of the month. In place of paying the back-due rent, Gianni agrees to take care of Luigi's mother, Marina, for a few days so Luigi can enjoy a vacation. Then Luigi shows up not just with Marina, but her sister Maria as well.
Next, Gianni's doctor arrives to check his blood pressure and prevails upon his patient to take care of his mother, Grazia. Before you can say "pasta," Gianni has four old ladies on his hands.
Fortunately, this aging slacker is a good cook. He produces one sumptuous Italian meal after another for the visiting grande dames. None of the four old ladies has professional acting experience, but they don't need it. Their individual quirks come through loud and clear, and they carry on as naturally as if there were no camera in the room.
Gianni's mother, Valeria, is graciously imperious with an imposing coiffure. She's so deeply tanned and wrinkled, she looks like a cosmetically enhanced prune. Luigi's mother Marina turns temperamental, locking herself in her room when Valeria grabs the TV. Then she goes missing and ends up at a local café, drinking and smoking.
Marina's sister Maria is quieter but determined to take over preparation of Gianni's macaroni and cheese casserole. The doctor's mother, Grazia, comes with a long list of ailments and pills, which she quickly proceeds to ignore, devouring the taboo macaroni and cheese when nobody is looking.
Gianni tries to accommodate everyone and gets through the days and meals with a glass of white wine perpetually in his hand. When the old ladies eventually eat him out of house and home, he enlists his friend Viking from the local bar to help him find a batch of fish freshly caught in the nearby Tiber River. That provides another occasion for a glass of wine and some camaraderie.
As is the case in most of life, nothing much happens. The fun comes in watching these Romans go about their business, interacting and learning to enjoy each other. Gianni, who wrote and directed as well as acted in "Mid-August Lunch," can cook for me anytime.
The film has won several international awards, including three from the Venice Film Festival.
"Mid-August Lunch," Saturday, March 27, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8, $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards regularly writes about film for The Times.