'Mid-August Lunch' Is a Gentle Movie, Unrushed and Tended to With Love

Mid-August Lunch is that kind of film whose pleasure lingers well after its final dish has been served.

Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto)

Director: Gianni Di Gregorio
Cast: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Cesarini Sforza
Distributor: Zeitgeist
Release Date: 2010-10-05

It would be understandable if, upon receiving an invitation to sit down with a quartet of octogenarian and nonagenarian ladies for lunch, you immediately search out other activities that appear more entertaining or hold the promise of greater excitement. Whilst others may forgive this desire to be excused from such an engagement, you may quickly come to regret such a rash decision. The prospect may seem dull and interminable at the start, but should you accept this invitation you may quickly find yourself in complete enjoyment of your elderly company.

Such is the case with the delightful 2008 Italian film Mid-August Lunch ( Pranzo di Ferragosto). A small and unassuming movie Mid-August Lunch tells the tale of Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio), a 50-ish bachelor who tends to his aging mother Valeria (Valeria de Franciscis) in their well-worn Roman flat. It’s nearly Ferragosto, the Italian end of summer holiday, and Gianni is one of the few Romans still left baking in the heat of the city. A dutiful and loving son, Gianni has a fondness for wine and a relaxed attitude towards all responsibilities beyond his mother’s care.

Perpetually behind with his rent and utilities, Gianni faces the possibility of eviction. Approached by the building manager Luigi (Alfonso Santagata), who is desperate to head to the coast for the long holiday weekend, Gianni is offered the chance to ease his mounting debts. All he must do is watch after his landlord’s mother while he heads out of town. Gianni reluctantly agrees and prepares for the temporary inconvenience.

The next day Luigi returns with not only his mother (Marina Cacciotti) but also, his Aunt Maria (Maria Cali) who needs a bed for a few nights. In short order, Gianni is paid a visit by his doctor (Marcello Ottolenghi) who implores him to please watch after his mother (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) for a few brief days. Armed with a list of dietary restrictions and health guidelines Gianni’s third houseguest only adds to his sense of a lost weekend. Gianni takes these inconveniences in stride and approaches the situation with mild chagrin and bemused resignation.

Truth be told not a lot happens in Mid-August Lunch. Gianni cooks for, listens to and tends to the needs of his temporary houseguests. Over the course of their stay the four women politely bicker, tell stories and share meals. Their personalities are distinct and their lives are never reduced to simple caricature. Di Gregorio treats his leading ladies (all non-professional actors) with an admiration and playfulness that is rarely afforded to women -- let alone those well past the fresh bloom of youth.

Clocking in at just 75-minutes Mid-August Lunch is more of a vignette than a sustained narrative. The film is an accumulation of moments -- gentle hints that touch on the comedy, drama and unforced beauty of ordinary people. Mid-August Lunch is a gentle movie -- unrushed and tended to with great love.

What is to be savored in this small film is Gianni Di Gregorio’s organic storytelling, unforced direction and utter appreciation for his elderly co-stars. Like the meals prepared throughout the film, this is a simple story free of artifice and unnecessary adornment. As a writer and director, Di Gregorio is not interested in packaging canned life lessons to pass on and feed to his audience. Rather, he has the confidence to stand back and snap a portrait of a group of women whose lives are both ordinary and profound.

Extras on the disc are fairly standard and include an interview with writer and director Gianni Di Gregorio, a selection of recipes inspired by the film and A Visit With the Cast, a 20-minute documentary where Di Gregorio catches up with his leading ladies.

We all know that a good meal requires more than just delectable food. It's an elusive alchemy that goes beyond adherence to recipes and table settings. Good meals -- the most memorable ones anyway-- are those that fuse disparate elements into a unifying whole. If pressed, we may struggle to identify the specific ingredients that contributed to our enjoyment, but we remain sated by the experience had.

Mid-August Lunch is that kind of film whose pleasure lingers well after its final dish has been served.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.