Directed by Gianni di Gregario
Gianni di Gregario's Mid-August Lunch proves that the man can pretty much do everything. Prior to Lunch, his directorial debut, di Gregario was part of a crack team of six writers who adapted Roberto Saviano's sprawling true-crime mosaic Gomorrah for Matteo Garrone's film of the book. Garrone in turn helped di Gregario step out of Gomorrah's colossal shadow by producing Mid-August Lunch, a refreshingly spare comedy that wryly pokes fun of the characteristically Italian obsession with filial responsibilities. Di Gregario writes, directs and stars in this drastically smaller scale comedy about little old ladies and heavy imbibing. At just shy of 70 minutes, he handily creates an intimiate character study that skewers the tendency of protagonists in the ever-burgeoning canon of "New Italian Cinema" to slavishly fulfill their familial responsibilities by comically presenting that masochistic urge as the ultimate domestic juggling act.
When it comes to taking care of his mama (Valeria di Fransiscis), Gianni (di Gregario) has his routine down pat: get mama's tonic water, buy two bottles of wine for himself, avoid the super, make lunch, kibbutz with mama and so on. His list of chores eventually leads him to neglect almost everything else—he hasn't paid his utility bills in a long while, doesn't have contact with the outside world save for merchants and doctors that help him tend to his mother and has no sex life to speak of (his mother indelicately covers for her son when he's entertaining guests by saying that he's got prospects but doesn't want to pursue them). Gianni scurries from his mother to her doctor back to his mother then to the wine store, flashing a waiter's bemused smile as he struggles to keep everybody happy and himself sane. Gianni's such a burnt-out pushover that it's no wonder that in no time, he's already agreed to take care of three more old ladies, just for a couple of days. Fueled by white wine and cigarettes, the man's practically the Italian Duracel bunny.
To sustain the modest humor of Gianni's strained equilibrium, Mid-August Lunch is presented as an expertly blocked sketch. While di Gregario's framing is strictly functional, his editing reflects an organic rhythm that matches Gianni's touch-and-go narrative. His timing is similarly unostentatious but exceptional, eliciting some expertly well-timed exchanges between Gianni and his house of needy biddies. That canny and assured direction prevents the film's humor from delving into the kind of soap opera theatrics that many similarly themed seriocomic entries in the burgeoning canon of "New Italian Cinema" use for their bread and olive oil. Di Gregario and Simone Riccardini's scenario is completely plausible, no matter how absurd, and di Gregario maintains a superhuman air of composure while he's in front of the camera that never cracks save for a brief, ethereal moment in the film's last minutes. After Gabriel Medina's The Paranoids, Mid-August Lunch is the first major contemporary import of 2010.
Opens March 17