Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Calì, Grazia Cesarini Sforza, Alfonso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi, Petre Rosu
Written by: Gianni Di Gregorio
Directed by: Gianni Di Gregorio
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 75
Date: 09/02/2008

Mid-August Lunch (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Criss-Crossed Pasta

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Gianni Di Gregorio -- one of the co-writers on Gomorrah -- wrote, directed and stars in this unique recipe, a bittersweet comedy/drama, with a dash of realism. Gian Enrico Bianchi provides the outstanding cinematography, both hot and gritty. Di Gregorio plays the middle-aged Gianni, who lives in Rome with his aged mother; when the August holidays roll around, Gianni can't afford to go anywhere, and neither can he leave his mother by herself. Gianni finds that others are in the same boat: two businessmen to whom he owes money agree to reduce his debt if he will take care of their mothers. An aunt shows up to complete the package, making it four old ladies and Gianni.

That's about all the plot there is. Gianni tries to juggle the wants and needs of the ladies. Two of them battle for possession of the television set, and one lady is not supposed to eat cheese or cooked tomatoes, but she keeps sneaking bites of Gianni's macaroni casserole. Gianni also spends a good deal of time at the local wine shop, sampling glasses, and then swilling white wine while he cooks. (One of the funniest bits comes during the opening credits; Gianni sits and drinks a glass in one side of the frame, while the credits roll on the other side.) Thankfully, none of this ends up in slapstick or pathos. They are just things that happen. Eventually, Gianni decides to cook a feast for the August 15th Ferragosto holiday (using money that the ladies have contributed). He must first find food in a town that is mostly closed down, and then make sure that everyone's happy.

That's the real question: how happy are these folks? At one point during the feast, the phone rings, and it's time for one of the ladies to go home. She registers a terribly hurt look on her face, as if she had been told someone died. She probably felt alive for the first time in ages, and doesn't want to go home. Di Gregorio resists the temptation to sugarcoat the old ladies and present them as cutie-pies; these women are aged and they look it. Gianni's mother (Valeria De Franciscis) in particular looks rather monstrous, with her leathery brown skin, her blotchy attempts at makeup and her sad Marilyn Monroe wig.

Likewise, this fantastic feast does not solve all of Gianni's problems. This is not a classic "food movie." Gianni is a good cook, but he doesn't appear to love it. He does it out of necessity, and his camera does not linger on the delicious food. Again, it's just something that happens, and it's something quite nice that takes everyone's mind off of their troubles for a little while. Sometimes that's enough. Zeitgeist released the 2010 DVD. It comes with a new interview with Gianni Di Gregorio, and a featurette meeting all the ladies from the film. There's also a liner notes booklet with two recipes.

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