Appellate Judge James A. Stewart finally got around to planning a mid-August lunch last week.
"There's a situation here that's a little…"
I could have gone with "Hurrah for the delicious meal!" for The Charge. At least on the surface, it would have suited Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto) well. The protagonist, Gianni, does spend time searching for ingredients and preparing food. However, the real theme of the small Italian movie is about caregiving, and being taken care of.
Gianni is caring for his 93-year-old mother (Valeria De Franciscis), and he's falling behind on the bills. The building administrator in his condominium needs a break from caring for his mother (Marina Cacciotti). Naturally, there's a deal to be made. More naturally for a movie, the deal gets larger, with the administrator's aunt and the doctor's mother coming to stay with Gianni and his mother as well.
The story, as writer/director/star Gianni Di Gregorio says in an interview, draws on life. He actually did fall behind on his bills while caring for his elderly mother. His building administrator made the suggestion, but Gianni didn't take him up on it. Later, he wondered what would have happened if he did and came up with a movie idea.
With only a couple of professional actors in the movie, the characters stay close to the personalities of the women who played them, which you'll see when you meet them in the extras. This gives scenes of, say, Maria (Maria Cali) helping out in the kitchen or Grazia (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) complaining about her doctor son's idea of a healthy diet extra verisimilitude.
Although there are some nice scenes of Rome as Gianni goes about his business of shopping and preparing for a meal, much of Mid-August Lunch takes place in a compact apartment (the one Di Gregorio actually lived in with his mother). What you do see of Rome is a little gritty and not quite picture postcard, but that adds to the charm, rather than diminishing it. It's a small-budget picture, so there's nothing fancy about the filming, but the high-def transfer does the job.
Mid-August Lunch just kind of meanders through its 75 minutes or so. Nothing really dramatic happens. However, it has the rhythms of the dynamic between Gianni and his mother, and later the other elderly women, down pat. The dialogue has the feel of general conversation, and the action—even the meal—is daily life. It's clear throughout that Di Gregorio lived what he's showing viewers.
In addition to DVD extras that introduce viewers to the cast, there's a booklet which includes a message from Di Gregorio and recipes for Filetti di Persico con Patate and Pasta al Forno. The good news is that the fish dish (Filetti di Persico con Patate) is simple enough to be almost completely idiot-proof.
Mid-August Lunch has some of the celebration of food and Rome that the box blurbs indicate, but I wouldn't recommend it as a travelogue. Instead, I'd recommend it to a frazzled caregiver or someone who has lived with parents or adult children. Many a viewer in a multigeneration household could see something of themselves in it, even if no one there's 93 yet.
Not guilty. Dig in.
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