A Summer in Genoa (2008)
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Everything in this film is very low key and measured, and there's nothing in it that rebels against common sense, nothing that seems beyond the realms of ordinary human life. The description given by my cable provider called it a 'supernatural drama,' but that it isn't. When the characters begin to wander around the maze of Genoan alleys, getting lost, I feared that the film might turn into a dreadful rehash of 'Don't Look Now,' but luckily no. The teenage girl resents her father's attempt to know where she goes (and who with) every hour of the day. The younger girl is more interesting as a character, and her portrayal of grief is quite moving.
Firth is excellent here, and he acts his part by apparently doing very little. This is exactly the right way of approaching one's part in rather slight 'slice of real life' material like this. If you're expecting 'supernatural' garbage like 'In Dreams' or 'Half Light,' you'll be sadly disappointed. But if you want thoughtful and humane drama, this is for you.
I won't give away the ending - it's not obvious, only subtly powerful. But I will say that the grieving survivors act the way any of us would in such circumstances - we get on with our day to day lives, all the while trying to figure out what has happened to us and find meaning in it. Through it all we experience fear, guilt, avoidance, anger, confusion and loneliness. We hold onto memories, good and bad. We sometimes cling to each other and sometimes reject offers of comfort so we can work out our grief in the best way we know and survive the process. We end up different, still imperfect, but we heal and move along on our life path. If you are looking for an obvious plot, and someone to spoon feed you the meaning of this film, don't bother - you won't like it. If you have ever experienced sudden grief, you will understand it easily.
Colin Firth gives one of his best performances in this film. He has a generous way, in his serious roles, of portraying just enough knowledge of his characters to draw the viewer in and allow us to invest a lot of our own emotions into the progress of the character and his eventual outcome. That's Firth's great talent which is missed my so many who would rather have it all explained to them. I prefer the small space that Firth beckons us to enter. I watch this film often, and he and Winterbottom show me a new level, a new meaning, a new view of life's frescoes each time I see it.
Colin Firth plays Joe with a wonderful sense of restraint. He is saddened by the turn of events, but knows he must stay strong for his two daughters, especially Mary who holds herself responsible for her mother's death. Reconnecting with an old friend from college, Catherine Keener, he discovers a job opening teaching at a college in Genova, Italy. With this guide helping him along, he decides to take the girls with him and hope a little European air will alleviate some of the pain of the past, a way to look towards the future. The locale is an interesting one, though, always seeming somewhat shady yet affluent at the same time. The beach is definitely a plus for the girls, but the long walks through strange neighborhoods, not knowing the language, is intimidating to say the least.
Joe finds that he isn't quite sure what he wants. He knows that Keener's character is there for him, seemingly to us that she wants a relationship, and also meets a student that appears interested as well. This possibility of a young affair strikes him as exciting and while beginning rather innocently, soon escalates to the point where he goes on a date, leaving his older daughter alone to watch her sister. A dangerous prospect for sure, especially knowing what the audience does about the volatile relationship the two have. Mary blames herself for their mother's death and Kelly is not one to correct her; she feels the only reason they are where they are is due to her sister.
Over the course of the story, Kelly, played by Willa Holland, descends into a circle of people who stay out late, do drugs, and party. Being made to move against her will, she decides to rebel a bit, finding a local boy to become her lover and pretty much be a selfish brat while the rest of the family mourns. Rather than join them, Kelly feels all she needs is to forget about the whole ordeal, have fun and not think about it. This detachment to the family doesn't make life easier for Mary, a great performance by Perla Haney-Jardine, as she has no one to talk to. Her father is working and dating and her sister abandons her at piano lessons in order to continue her sexual escapades, using threats to keep it secret from their father. The only person she has to talk with is her deceased mother for whom she begins seeing. This ghost leads Mary around Genova, causing trouble and scares along the way, but also conveniently allowing for circumstances to come up, those that have the potential to mend all the broken fences.
It is this fact that bothered me about the film. At its core is a very emotive tale of loss, coping, and redemption, but while the beginning two thirds portray this, the final act decides to tie all loose ends up as easily as possible, sending young Mary on a journey with her dead mother, carefully orchestrated to make the rest of the characters come find her. The writing is on the wall throughout, you feel it's just a matter of time before Kelly's new friends show they aren't as great as she thinks, the genial bond between Keener and Firth becomes strained, and the father slowly drifts from his daughters, unaware what's going on with them because he is too busy trying to get over his own grief. Some of the best scenes come when Firth enters Haney-Jardine's room to console her after a nightmare or vision ends with her mother leaving once again. It is heartbreaking to watch at times, however, the way it all comes together subverts that power, showing how manufactured scripts can be. I understand the desire for cyclical narratives, starting the film with a car crash and ending it with one, but stuff like that is so obvious that the artifice takes you away from the craft on screen. The acting and characters are all fully fleshed-out beingstruly remarkable across the boardit is just a shame that the story doesn't stay as consistent as them, to allow for a profound conclusion rather than the easy one laid before us.
Unlike other people who have left comments on IMDb, I found this a tense, gripping film. There may be little in the way of physical action but this is because the entire drama is played out at a psychological level. The youngest daughter is overwhelmed with guilt and self-loathing at having inadvertently caused her mother's death. The oldest daughter's fury at her sister over the death leads her to reject the younger girl through increasingly cruel behaviour, while her own grief leads her into ever-more dangerous situations. The father is so wrapped up in his own pain that he is unable to communicate with his daughters, missing all the clear warning signs of trouble despite his clear love for them.
This film is one of the most touching and true-to-life portrayals of bereavement I have seen. It is extremely understated but that makes it all the more powerful as it feels so real. The dramas are the small dramas of everyday life - a teenage girl staying out beyond curfew, a young girl missing for a few hours, a man's meaningless flirtation with a younger woman. As in real life, these feel tremendously important when they happen but generally mean nothing and have no lasting effects. Although these small dramas usually lead nowhere, Winterbottom builds them up to reflect the magnitude of feelings inside his characters.
I can see why people might find this film slow-paced but for me this was not the case. The psychological drama and pain of the characters more than compensated for the lack of physical action - and it was flawlessly acted. If you are interested in human relations, particularly family relations and grief, this is well worth seeing.
This is, all the same, a beautiful movie to watch; primarily for the scenes in Italy as well as the ample supply of pretty legs. The filmmaker has gone for authentic dialog. ad-lib style; but the reason I score this movie as a "5" is because it lacks focus or viewpoint. By giving us 6 characters always in scatter-shot style, there is not much focus on plot or character development. No reason to like or dislike any of them.
The older daughter meets a guy and finds passion. The younger one does not (too young) and the father attracts a possible new wife. No one's character develops, nothing much happens (besides eating spaghetti) and after 90 minutes, for no other reason, the movie ends. FIN
"Is that it?" is what my wife and I said to each other as the credits rolled and that is my summary of this movie.
I had to watch it twice to get through it.
I can't blame the acting - I feel all of the cast did a good job with what they had. The cinematography was impressive - all the narrow, tall alley shots made me feel like I was there. The story to me was just lacking.
I think I understand the message they were trying to get across - a family coming to terms with the accidental death of their mother/wife - a realistic story. But this family was not really much more interesting than my next door neighbor. It was just too common place.
I spent the movie waiting for something to happen - and it never did. Even the inclusion of the supernatural twist of the mother's ghost seemed not to add to the story at all.
The basics of a story that you expect to find in a movie were missing. There was no rising action, every part of the movie was just another day. Some conflict between the characters did occur but was built up so slowly and it hadn't really reached a high enough point by the time the climax happened.
When the climax did happened I was wondering "was that it?". It was somewhat more exciting than the rest of the movie but a far cry from what a climax should be.
The resolution seemed totally missing to me. I suppose we can assume that after the bland climax some of the conflict between the characters was resolved but I really don't think the incident was major enough to have caused that much of an effect on the characters past a day or two. Or perhaps we aren't supposed to assume anything was really resolved and that we just saw a short period of time of this very dull family and it will continue on the same once we're finished watching.
Overall, not a terrible movie but one they could have done much more with.
In juxtaposition to the darker, more morbid themes inherent to the screenplay however is also a firm sense of hope and romanticism. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful city of Genoa in Italy, daughters Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Kelly (Willa Holland) along with their widower father Joe (Colin Firth) set about making a new start away from the despair from their collective past. This of course allows both older sister Kelly and Joe to seek out relationships that serve as a way to lightly distract from the misfortune involving their mother and wife, and in turn allows Genova to shed a lighter, more hopeful melody. Yet such moments are certainly not without their stark reminders as to what these characters are inevitably running from. Within the character of Mary who is the younger of the sisters lies the most unsettling and reaffirming reminder of the accident. Unable to move on quite as readily as her father and sister, Mary begins seeing visions of her mother which usually results in her screaming in the middle of the night when her "ghost"—or memory—disappears.
This sense of claustrophobia is further explored through a variety of sequences, some of which are undoubtedly overdone and overexposed throughout the ninety minute runtime—yet they nevertheless serve an important purpose. Given that the story of Genova is largely character based, there is always cause for concern that the heavy-handed material and themes inherent to such analysis will lead to a slow-moving narrative serving only to alienate viewers. This is where director Michael Winterbottom's undertones of danger and ominous uncertainty helps create a much more flowing and engaging piece. While it could be argued that Winterbottom perhaps spoils the integrity of his film by resorting to such moments on more than a few occasions in what is a relatively short film; the vast majority works well with the more romanticised, sombre and restrained aspects of the feature to reflect the melancholic nature of the script.
What serves as the central component to Genova's story however, is undoubtedly its greatest attribute. Through the characters of Mary, Kelly, Joe and Joe's old-flame Barbara (Catherine Keener), key themes of family, strength through loss, and moving on after death can truly shine. Particularly engaging here is the combination of Firth with young actress Perla Haney-Jardine who shares a compelling and always tangible relationship as father and daughter that feels natural and sweet. Firth, who has up until now proved himself one of this country's finest and most mature of thespians, again delivers a performance that establishes a fine balance between remaining natural and yet always bursting with screen-presence and charisma. The same of course can be said with the remainder of the cast, with particular attention to Haney-Jardine who shows that even actors of her age group can succeed in delivering intelligent and emotionally resonant characters.
Performances aside however, Genova nevertheless succeeds because of the characters it offers those actors which in the end decide whether the movie will live or die in the eyes of audiences. Winterbottom here crafts an unassuming and disquieted feature that will no doubt fail to grasp the attention of some because of its slow-moving, almost non-existent plot—but for fans of intricate but not overly sentimental character drama, the majority of Genova will do little wrong. If there is one failing to the production it would be that despite the already short runtime, the feature as a whole feels too much for what should naturally be a much shorter and more concise story. Nevertheless, with strong compelling characters and a tale that always engages through those characters, Genova is a pleasant and touching journey of discovery that always feel human and genuinely invested in detailing one of the hardest parts of life through death itself.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
That it takes place in Italy was another reason I gave it a viewing, but if that is how truly bleak Genoa is, it won't be on any of my future travel plans. In summary, that is 1 and a half hours of my life that I will never get back. Use yours more wisely and skip this meaningless movie....
I will careful check future films for Winterbottoms name and avoid them at all cost.
The film isn't clear on what it wants to be about, grief?, exotic places?, ghosts?, a vehicle for Mr Darcy? It's a muddled, muddy mess.
There seems to be some sort of idea that Italy must be good, in itself, and that Italian has something to offer as a language - but in the end the girls just want to go back to yankland.
There are pointless episodes on the beach, in churches, on busy roads - but what it is all about, or why anybody should care simply isn't clear.
There was also a yank woman in the film. It wasn't clear what here job was, but she seemed only to be there to make vapid, inappropriate and maudlin comments to the girl. Was it supposed to be about paedophillia??
A pretty dreadful mess, all in all. I gave it 2 rather than 1 because it doesn't have the charm of an utterly ghastly film.
The grieving husband, Joe, a university professor, decides to leave Chicago behind in favor of a year in Genoa, where his friend, Barbara, is teaching. The change of scenery proves to be a momentary distraction for the family. Mary has a problem adapting to the new surroundings as well as to the loss of her mother. In part, she feels responsible for the accident. Kelly, on the other hand, falls right in a youthful crowd, quite a contrast from her life back in America.
Director Michael Winterbottom, working on the material he created with Laurent Coriat, gives us a tour of the old city of Genoa, full of mystery and dark alleys. The film is lovely to watch, but when it ends, one cannot help thinking whether one was taken for a ride. Nothing much happens in this picture that focuses basically on the two girls and how they perceive their new life. Joe's character is just an afterthought.
Colin Firth is a good actor; he will always enhance the material he is asked to portray, but in this film, he shows nothing of interest. Catherine Keener does not fare much better. Lovely Hope Davis stays not too long for us to enjoy her presence. Perla Haney-Jardine, seen as Mary is about the best thing in the movie. Willa Holland, who plays Kelly is lovely to look at, but she does nothing with her character that moves the viewer.
The city of Genoa is photographed with love by cinematographer Marcel Zyskind. The musical score is by Melissa Parmenter.
Mom's also pretty angry about the funeral which looks more like your typical faculty party. No one seems very sad and the kids are all outside smoking pot. The rest of the movie consists of wistful sighs, a commercial for RyanAir, furtive sidelong glances, scooter rides accompanied by bad Euro Trash music and lots of cigarettes. Does the British Lottery not have better things to do with their money? Are there no war veterans who need prosthetic limbs?
This film is mind numbingly boring. Straight away you see a flight from Chicago to Genova via RyanAir. Since when did RyanAir fly from Chicago? Oops sponsorship! As for the film proper. Not much to say really. Shot on a cheap camera with cheap sound it centres around beach shots, shopping shots, lots and lots of alleyway shots. numerous shots of people on scooters, a car collision which looked like it had been done by retired stunt men, a few shots about candles being lit and nice cuddly family scenes. Add a little Italian into the stew and that's it.
Ignore any pretencion about sub-plots. There aren't any. There is no drama. It's a film that goes nowhere because it doesn't have a starting point. It could have been made by a group of students on their first year film course.
Next time I watch a film about Italy or based around Italy I shall make sure it has the stamp of an Italian director. Mr. Winterbottom has now entered my 'Must Avoid' list.
Truly awful. Minus 10
Now where's my cat?
My Rating --> 3 of 5
The plot of "Genova" sounds promising, but unfortunately it is empty and without focus. The film only consists of a collection of scenes depicting the daily life of the family, such as swimming, taking piano lessons or cooking eggs. Most of such scenes are redundant and tiresome, completely failing to engage viewers emotionally. The ending is very disappointing as it is not spectacular, moving or emotional. I can safely say that I am disappointed and bored by "Genova" The only thing good about the film is the sunny weather and the beauty of Genova. "Genova" can serve as an extended tourism advertisement for the city, but not as a film to be enjoyed.
I can see why some feel it is plot less but it did not feel that way to me. This is not a movie that has a specific beginning and ending, it is more a "chapter in the life of..." movie which I can handle quite well from time to time. But if you are not a fan of that Mediterranean movie tradition then you should stay away from this one.
It has to be said that the acting in 'Genova' was absolutely spot on - so much so that it felt to me like Michael Winterbottom, accidentally equipped with a camera, somehow landed near this bereaved family and decided to film what he saw happening around him. It is all so natural - real persons with real emotions. I take my hat off to the youngest girl who really nailed her role. Coming from me that is praise indeed since generally I find (American) child actors annoying and fake. Colin Firth is great and I also absolutely loved Catherine Keener who never seems to have to make an effort; she is always terrific.
Having said this I have to admit that I did not shed any tears, although usually I am quite the cry-baby when watching movies. I contribute this however to the fact that A) I am not a parent and B) I did not recently lose somebody very close to my heart. There is no doubt in my mind that had either one been the case, 'Genova' would have me sobbing uncontrollably for being so emotionally real.