Review: Mid-August Lunch

“I like it; you mellow these hours.”

The cinematic argument Mid-August Lunch makes is one that prizes natural, simple communication between people over everything, including the leanest semblance of plot.  While there isn’t much story on screen, what is there is an absolute delight.

Gianni (writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio) is an unemployed, middle-aged man who lives in Rome with his elderly mother (Valeria De Franciscis), whom he tends to day and night.  To avoid paying some mounting building maintenance fees for their modest condominium, he agrees to take in the landlord’s mother over the Ferragosto holidays.  But when they show up, the landlord’s aunt Maria is thrown into the bargain.  After doing household preparations and cooking their first meal together, Gianni calls on his physician, who diagnoses him favorably and then makes a request:  while he works a midnight shift at the hospital, could Gianni look after his mother?  Over the course of the next day, the four women begin to warm to each other, and soon make fast friends as Gianni rushes about, tending to all of their needs.  And that’s pretty much it.

However, despite the not-much-happens scenario, there is a delicacy and an intimacy to the characters and their interactions that help make for a wonderful experience.   Di Gregorio (also the co-writer of producer Matteo Garrone’s much-heralded crime saga Gomorra) interviewed over a hundred non-actors for the roles.  All four of his choices are over 90 years old.  Yet each one brings a winning personality to the screen, and their interactions feel perfectly natural, adding to the film’s authenticity.  Truly, they are a joy to watch:  De Franciscis, in particular, has a priceless way with facial reactions and fluttering hand gestures that say more than any words ever could.

While its run time of 75 minutes would indicate a mere trifle, Mid-August Lunch is a superb display of human connections that, through simplicity of story and the realism provided by its unassuming cast, manages to impress more than the complexities of most contemporary dramas.  That it is a genuine, relaxed affair just adds to its winning nature.

[Mid-August Lunch opens Friday, May 28 at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.]