Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday Night Pranzo

Any faithful reader will have looked at the title of this post and arched an eyebrow: Pranzo? Saturday Night? No, that doesn't sound right! After all the posts were you've prattled on and on about Sunday Lunch (pranzo) being the big meal of the week? How can you have Pranzo on a Saturday Night? Or is this sort of like Sunday morning mass were you can go on Saturday night?

No you're right, you can't have pranzo on Saturday night - or any other night for that matter, unless you're watching a little gem like Pranzo di Ferragosto (Lunch on August 15) which is what I did a week ago Saturday evening. The HFH and I snuggled up on the couch - Laurent was in Athens with his dad - and spent 75 minutes in the company of an elderly Italian lady, her put-upon son and three unexpected guests.

Director-Writer-Actor Gianni Di Gregorio (right)had just come off working as one of the screen writers on Matteo Garrone's Gammorah, the harrowing cinematic version of the best selling expose on the Mafia in Napoli. Back in 2000 he had written a screenplay about his own experience as an only child with an elderly mother but no producer would back it because it was about very old people and it involved old actors. He showed it to Garrone who agreed to produce it and shoulder most of the €500,000.00 budget.

Di Gregorio made a few risky decisions. First he didn't want to use professional actresses - possibly knowing that vanity would get in the way of what he had intended to do; next he decided to shoot the film not at a studio but on location in his own home; and then when the actor he had planned to use in the role of the son didn't seem to have much chemistry with the older women he took over the role himself. All three decisions are what makes this film the charming comedy it is.

Now I'm not talking side-splitting, rolling on the floor comedy, I'm talking gentle, smile inducing comedy on a more human level. And I cringe to think of what will happen if Hollywood decides, as they did when La Cage aux Folles became The Birdcage, to make an adaptation of it. Let's hope that doesn't happen and Di Gregorio's little comedy remains the sweet little jewel it is.

Gianni (Di Gregorio) is a 50ish bachelor who lives with his 80 year old mother Valeria (93 year old Valeria De Franciscis - left) in gentile poverty in their family flat in Trastevere. They are 3 years behind in the condo payments and bills are mounting up at the local enoteca. When the condo manager offers Gianni a way out if he'll look after his mother Marina (Marina Cacciotti) over Ferragosto (the August 15th holiday), he has little choice. But the manager forgot to mention that his Aunt Maria (Maria Cali - Di Giorgio's real aunt) is also part of the package. When a doctor friend implores him to look after his mother (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) he finds himself playing nurse maid to four old ladies when everyone else in Roma seems to be off enjoying the holiday. Not much really happens in the short 75 minutes but a great deal occurs.

Had I not known better I would say the situation was a bit far-fetched but with the little knowledge I have acquired of life here over the past three years I can say that not only is that scenario in the realm of possibility but also that of probability. The woman in the apartment below us has not paid her condo fees in over four years and I do know men (and not necessarily gay men) in their 50s and 60s who still live with their mothers. And indeed at Ferragosto the city is deserted and trying to find food becomes - particularly in the neighbourhoods - a major chore. And Di Gregorio has said that the story is based - loosely - on something that happened to him a few years ago.

What is striking in all this is the treatment of old age - the camera does not shy away from catching the liver spots, sagging skin or multiple wrinkles of the still elegant Signora De Franciscis or the other women but out of it all comes a sense of the nobility and resilience of age.

In an interview after winning the Best First Feature award at the London Film Festival Di Gregorio said "Though I have a family of my own, I lived with my old, widowed mother for many years (being her only child) so came to know well the reality of being old. I was struck by their vitality and energy but at the same time by their vulnerability and the fear of loneliness they have. I thought then that it would be fair to show these two aspects, though during the shoot I realised that their positivity and desire to live prevailed."

And in this charming funny little film I think he has more than achieved what he set out to do. And I, for one, would love to spend a pranzo at ferragosto or any other time of the year with such delightful company.

17 ottobre - Sant'Ignazio di Antiochia

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Anonymous said...

You can keep calling him Gianni Di Giorgio if you like but actually his name is Gianni Di Gregorio.....



Debra She Who Seeks said...

Thanks, Willym, for enlightening me about this film! I will definitely put it on my "to see" list and hopefully will be able to find it some day!

Vitality/energy versus vulnerability/fear of loneliness -- very true for anyone in their senior years and especially women who are disproportionately left alone after their husbands pass on.