One of the more memorable and certainly grittier films of last year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival was the Italian Gomorrah, an unusually unflinching look at the brutal criminal factions in the Naples-based Camorra syndicate. What a surprise, then, to find that one of that film’s writers, Gianni Di Gregorio, is behind the helm of the gentle and genial Mid-August Lunch, a wonderfully understated and wit-salted tale of a Roman man drawn into the care and feeding—emotionally and otherwise—of his elderly mother and several other older women around the mid-summer repast of the Italian holiday Ferragosto.
Although released in Italy in 2008, Mid-August Lunch arrives in theaters here just in time for Mother’s Day, and perhaps the film is an ode and apology to Di Gregorio’s own mother for going so deeply into the dark side in Gomorrah. (Similarly, Martin Scorsese has said he made films like New York, New York and The Age of Innocence partly to appease his mother, who shrank away from his violent sagas.) Mid-August Lunch is as light and sweet as Gomorrah is grim and grisly, but one could say that both films, in radically different ways, deal with broader social realities beyond the tight focus of their milieus.
In Lunch, Di Gregorio plays the hapless mid-lifer who, through various circumstances, ends up being the mediator and caretaker for his own mother and a handful of others’ mothers. There are interpersonal frictions to be massaged, meds and special diets to maintain, cooking tips and peacemaking gestures to make. But the cause of mother maintenance is next to Godliness. This film is a tender paean to life, love, longevity, and lunch, Italian style.