Gianni (writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio) is having a rough go of it. A middle-aged man living with his loving if demanding mother (Valeria De Franciscis) in an airy condominium complex in Rome, Gianni is a bit under-employed--well, unemployed to be exact. He hasn't paid the electric bill in years. The wine merchant maintains a running tally of what Gianni owes him, and the condo administrator has the unfortunate duty of informing Gianni that the other residents want to take legal action against him for not paying his fees. Gianni, though, is home all the time, is an excellent cook, and has to be a patient and caring man if he can put up with his mother. So the administrator offers him a deal: He'll financially get Gianni back in good standing with the condo people if Gianni can watch his mother for a day. What's to lose?
Writer/director/co-star Di Gregorio was one of the co-writers of Matteo Garrone's mundanely brutal Gomorra, though Mid-August Lunch is almost the exact opposite of that Neapolitan* crime flick. Confined almost entirely to the sunny rooms of Gianni's flat and taking place over a little more than two days and two nights, Lunch is as bubbly as a glass of prosecco and just as dryly and fruitily unfussy. Once all the pieces are in place--the condo administrator brings over his mother (Marina Cacciotti) and aunt (Maria Calí), and Gianni's doctor pops in asking if he can take his mother (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) for the day too--you know exactly where this quietly heartwarming tale is going. Four elderly women keep him routinely at his wit's end. Each has her own peccadilloes, and they don't all hit it off at first. One even takes a runner from the apartment and Gianni has to track her down, finding her smoking and drinking at an outdoor café. Through it all, Gianni drinks and cooks, cooks and drinks, and, sure enough, by the end of this brisk 75 minutes, those four old women are going to be enjoying a nice meal like BFFs.
Mid-August Lunch takes place over Ferragosto, an Italian holiday where people often leave the city, and one of the movie's visual joys is a ride through Rome's streets with Gianni on the back of a moped searching for an open fishmonger. It's a subtle twist one of Italian movie's oldest clichés--stylish young men on mopeds tooling around crowded Roman streets--indicative of the movie's entire approach. Textbook art-house fare, refreshingly shorn of corny sentimentality, and inoffensively slight.
Correction: The initial version of this review incorrectly described Gomorra as a Nepalese crime film.