“Made in Italy,” starring Liam Neeson and his son Michaél Richardson, plays at the Film Center and virtually on Friday, August 14. Although the story is fictional, viewers can’t help thinking about the tragic death of Neeson’s wife Natasha Richardson from a skiing accident and his son Michaél.
Directed by James D’Arcy, “Made in Italy” opens with a reception at an art gallery run by Jack (Michaél Richardson). He learns his soon-to-be ex-wife is about to sell the gallery, and desperate to buy it, decides to sell the Italian villa he hasn’t set foot in for 20 years. Coming off a series of popular action thrillers, Neeson plays the once-upon-a-time successful artist Robert, who is Jack’s father. The catch is that Robert, whom Jack hasn’t spoken to in years, owns half of the villa. Jack corrals his father, a failed artist, womanizer and generally curmudgeonly fellow, and the two set off to sell the place.
What they find is a dilapidated house in need of serious renovations. The front door collapses when they try to open it. A feral animal has taken up residence in a kitchen cabinet, and there’s a hole in the roof. Plus the wall in the main room is covered by a garish red abstract painting that Robert has slapped on after his wife’s death. More significant is the contentious relationship between father and son. Yet Jack remains determined to fix up the house and sell it.
Robert is not particularly interested in helping his son with repairs, and as the story unfolds, the viewer learns the house belonged to his late wife. Jack is bitter about his father’s neglect and the fact that Robert has not mentioned his mother’s name since her death. Instead he sent his son off to boarding school. Negotiations between the two make up the rest of the plot.
The tart real estate broker Kate (Lindsay Duncan) adds some spice to an otherwise sagging plot. For Jack, the story ventures into a budding romance with local trattoria owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello). Serving dinner to a booming crowd, Natalia acts as the verbal go-between for Jack and his father. A locked shed serves as the McGuffin, or plot trigger, for revelations about the late Raffaela.
Repeated shots of the lush Tuscany landscape provide a welcome view of what the villa might become. Jack hires locals to do the renovations, and gradually the relationship between father and son opens to the grief shared by them. A fight between the two becomes the climax for “Made in Italy.” Neeson, with his authentically gruff demeanor, is the best part of the less-than-potent “Made in Italy.”
Information and tickets for “Made in Italy,” both virtually and at the M.V. Film Center, are available at mvfilmsociety.com.