Mid-August Lunch

Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto, 2008)
Written and directed by Gianni Di Gregorio

Ferragosto…I wouldn’t be caught dead in an Italian city!

Ferragosto, August 15th, is the height of the midsummer vacation season. It is a purely Italian phenomenon, one that I have never quite experienced anywhere else in the world. It is the time of the year when our beautiful, vibrant cities become ghost towns; you cannot get a decent meal (or buy food, for that matter), see a movie, find a doctor…

As Italians eagerly hustle to leave their cities for summer adventures on the shores or in cooler, picturesque, sometimes exotic locales, what are the casualties of this stampede?

Judging from the string of public announcements that flood the airways before the exodus, it is often pets that, sadly, end up ditched by unscrupulous owners. But what happens to the elderly? Who cares for them if they are too weak, unwell (or of limited means) to travel and join in the frolicking? This is the premise Mid-August Lunch by Gianni De Gregorio (in his directorial debut; De Gregorio is also the author of the screenplay and stars in the film).

It is hard to imagine that De Gregorio’s previous project was to write the script to Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, a very different, painfully honest and extremely graphic film about organized crime’s terrible hold on Naples and the Italian South.

De Gregorio, the only cast member under eighty, plays an unemployed, cash strapped Roman bachelor, whose full time occupation is to tend to every need of his 90 year old widowed mother, Valeria (beautifully played by Valeria De Franciscis).

On the fateful eve of Ferragosto, his building manager, Luigi, shows up unannounced to remind Gianni of his outstanding bills and to offer him a deal. Luigi will expunge some of these debts in exchange for Gianni looking after his elderly mother, Marina. A few hours later Luigi shows up to drop off his mamma and brings along an even older zia (aunt), Maria; we see him minutes later happily taking off in a convertible with a much younger fling. The gang is soon joined by the mamma of Gianni’s cardiologist, Grazia, also alone for Ferragosto while her son is on call.

After some initial bickering, the four nonagenarians adjust to their novel cohabitation and negotiate personalities, diets and even make it through an escape by Marina to a local trattoria (she is in the mood for romance!). Add to the mix of these unusual circumstances lots of great food, wine and cigarettes (mostly consumed by Gianni) and tranquillizers (slipped by Gianni into Chamomile tea when he has had enough of the old ladies and needs a break) and you get a film of rare humanity that defies conventions and looks at the elderly with dignity and humor. Away from their respective biological families on a zany sleepover, this most unlikely group of women starts to bond, to reminisce about the past and finds hours of happiness.

The performance of the female roles (all non professional actors) is phenomenal! Watch this film if you have a chance. Right now it is streaming on Netflix.

Un esercizio per praticare il vostro italiano

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