Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) Reviews
On the face of it, this is from a culture which respects its elderly more than the United States. After all, the characters we see all live with their aged mothers still. Essentially all the main character seems to do is take care of his mother; certainly he doesn't have a job or pay his bills. However, it's quite clear that the more successful characters are happy to be shed of their mothers for the holiday. There's no implication that they've ever considered taking their mothers with them. The men have taken their mothers in because that's what society expects of them, but that doesn't mean the family is any closer. At least not in any way but physically, which is arguably the least important. In fact, I'd say it's considered an implication of failure on the part of the main character that he has time to spend with his mother instead of being off living his own life--even by the old women.
Gianni (Gianni De Gregorio) owes everyone. He spends all his time sitting around with his mother (Valeria De Franciscis), and it's going to get them evicted. But his landlord, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), makes him a deal. If Gianni will take Alfonso's mother (Marina Cacciotti) for the Ferragosto holiday, Alfonso will forgive the debt. He even sneaks Gianni a key to the elevator he isn't supposed to use in order to make things easier on the old ladies. Oh, and he doesn't quite remember to mention that his mother's sister, Maria (Maria Calì), will be coming along for the deal. Then Gianni has an appointment with his doctor (I'm not sure). The doctor suggests that he will accept a similar deal and brings over his own mother, Grazia (Grazia Cesarini Sforza). Gianni is given a care sheet for her, but Grazia is none to happy with the whole thing. The ladies are not all happy about the initial situation, and Gianni certainly isn't happy with having to provide the level of care they expect, but it ends well after all, sort of.
Really, all the women would benefit from some sort of senior citizens' center. My understanding is that there isn't one; presumably, church and family are expected to take care of that end of things. However, the women seem lonely. Alfonso is lying when he says that he's going to meet his family at a spa; Gianni sees him running off to meet a young girl. But even if he hadn't been, there is never a suggestion that his mother might enjoy going to the mud baths herself. She'd just be in the way. What's more, the women are all old enough so that their friends will have started to die. There's no way to be sure that they would have any friends left in the area--even if they're alive, their children might have moved and taken them somewhere across the country completely. What Gianni provides is not merely a place to stay. It's companionship. It's something as little as people who haven't heard all their stories and might be interested in their recipes.
Large amounts of the movie is five people sitting around in an apartment together. Gianni goes out at one point in search of a store open on the biggest holiday of the summer, and Alfonso's mother sneaks out to go sit in a cafe and drink and smoke, but that's really about it. It's interesting to note that the two women identified by name are also the two who get along best, but it's also worth noting that the characters never really need names. They are never really out of earshot, and they are never in need of a way to get one another's attention. The women are a burden to Gianni, but they are never such a burden that he considers that his life might be better if he went out and got a job instead. He's perfectly content to sit in the kitchen with his mother all day, and it's only when the women's determined personalities come in conflict that he really has any problems with them. It's a slow, quiet film, one that's really more intended to make us think about what life is like than anything else.
Also interesting is that these are not really professional actors. Gianni Di Gregorio was the director and co-writer. Three of the four women have no other film credits, and the fourth (Valeria De Franciscis) only has two others--both after this and one also written and directed by Di Gregorio. Admittedly, I'm limited in my research tools by the fact that I don't speak Italian, but it seems Di Gregorio himself is essentially a novice. This was his directorial debut, and he's only written eight screenplays. I can't help thinking that this is a second career for him, though I can't confirm that, given the aforementioned language barrier. Italian Neo-Realism, to which Di Gregorio owes a debt, also tended to feature non-professionals a lot, often to capture a more natural performance. Who better to know how to portray an old woman ignored by her family than an old woman ignored by her family? Not that I know anything about the women's families, either.
While not what anybody would call substantial, "Mid-August Lunch" goes down easily enough as a droll and charming comedy of manners. One of the most important is to care for the elderly, but not treat them like children. Such lessons are learned on a slow-moving holiday whose rhythms are captured nicely by long takes while also getting some fine footage of Rome in the meantime.