Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
Movies and food just seem to go together, not necessarily eating popcorn while watching, but as compatible subjects on-screen as well. From Tom Jones to Babette’s Feast, from La Grande Bouffe to last week’s I Am Love, the use of food as a plot device is one that is time-honored and tastily accepted.
The new Italian film, Mid-August Lunch, continues that tradition.
Gianni is an unemployed, middle-aged man living in Rome with his imposing and demanding elderly mother. His only outlet from her and the debt, into which they are sinking, is the occasional visit to the local tavern. But Gianni is a good son, and he takes good care of his mother, and lovingly prepares all her meals During the celebration of the holiday of Ferragosto on August 15 everybody leaves town to have fun, which presents Gianni with an opportunity to make some money. The head of his condo association wishes to leave town, but needs someone to care for his elderly mother, so he makes Gianni an offer he can’t refuse: take care of mama for the holiday and have your condo fees forgiven. What he doesn’t mention is that his aunt will also be coming to stay. And in the course of events, a fourth woman shows up for the senior sleepover. So now Gianni has four women, three of whom are strangers, to entertain while most everyone else is on holiday.
To celebrate the holiday, Gianni does what he does best… he cooks for them. He prepares baked macaroni with three cheeses, mortadella and tomatoes; baked cod with potatoes, rosemary, and olive oil; and a seasonal fruit tart. But with many vendors closed for the holiday, securing some of the necessary ingredients presents other challenges.
Gianni is played by Gianni DiGregorio, who is also the writer and director. He’s been quoted that the reason he played the role himself is that the budget was so small he couldn’t afford a real actor. It’s just as well, as he gives a delightful performance. The four women are not actors. He interviewed over one hundred ladies before deciding on his aunt, a family friend, and two others, all of whom were over ninety years old. Who needs professionals with talent like this available? And those are not the only cost-cutting measures used by this talented filmmaker: he shot it in his own apartment. Now that’s a resourceful director.
Unlike American films, which would likely be loaded with pratfalls, slapstick, and rude humor, Mid-August Lunch is filled to the brim with friendship, food, and joy. It’s the kind of comedy at which you may not laugh out loud a lot, but you’ll certainly have a big smile on your face, especially at the wry, unexpected ending.
Mid-August Lunch is a prime example of why I love foreign films so much. It’s heartfelt, understated, and thoroughly engaging. And it may also encourage you to head to your kitchen on August 15 to recreate the meal in the film for your own personal Ferragosto celebration.
The unrated Mid-August Lunch, in Italian with English subtitles, is now showing at the Mariemont Theatre.