PRANZO DI FERRAGOSTO
I was utterly charmed the first time I saw Pranzo di Ferragosto just after its release in the early fall of 2008. I remember seeing it in Rome at the multiplex in Piazza Barberini with friends from Rieti, where I was staying. The film wasn’t expected to be a huge draw and hadn’t been programmed in Rieti, so we drove the 80-kilometers to Rome – a trip well worth the effort. I was enchanted, as were the critics, and Pranzo di Ferragosto was distinguished with a number of important Italian film awards. Luckily, an English-language subtitled version would also be produced and it was released in the United States about a year and a half later with the title Mid-August Lunch.
At around that time I was still in Italy and was talking on the phone with one of my sisters. She asked me whether I had seen Mid-August Lunch as it was playing at her local art cinema. Mulling over the title in my mind, I realized she was referring to Pranzo di Ferragosto and began singing its praises. I added that it would be great for my niece. My sister was always looking for quality movies, completely G-rated, for the family to see together, so I was in the midst of wholeheartedly recommending it, when my sister said abruptly, “But she’s only 7.”
“Yes, but there’s nothing offensive in it.”
“But it’s subtitled!”
Oh yeah, she was only 7. She hadn’t ever experienced a movie with subtitles. I’ve even heard more than one supposedly mature adult declare, “I don’t go to the movies to read!” However, my niece was an avid reader, and at the tender age of 7 Mid-August Lunch would become her first foreign film. And she liked it!
WHAT IS FERRAGOSTO?
The film is set in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, abandoned for the Ferragosto holiday on August 15th. The celebration dates back to Roman times and also coincides with the Catholic Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Although the date for the holiday is officially the 15th, the festival period can extend from a long weekend to the entire month for many Italians, as it is the prime vacation time in Italy. Everyone who is anyone is off celebrating on Ferragosto – often at the beach or in the mountains.
Thus, the title Pranzo di Ferragosto lost a little something in the translation as it actually means “Lunch of Ferragosto.” And since the holiday isn’t explained in the movie, the English-language title Mid-August Lunch just reflects the month of the year. It’s a small detail that doesn’t harm the movie’s flavor. Literally, as food is an important feature, which is to be expected – it’s Italy!
The main attraction of Mid-August Lunch is not Italian cuisine, however, it is the characters. Opening on a very wrinkled, liver-spotted arm resting on bed linens, the camera travels slowly up to reveal the equally blotched face of a 93-year-old woman, listening intently to her son Gianni, also the film’s protagonist, writer and director, reading from The Three Musketeers.
She interrupts. “D’Artagnan, com’era? Fisicamente.” (D’Artagnan, what was he like, physically?)
The son dutifully goes back to the beginning and reads a bit of the description.
She makes a face and exclaims, “Gli uomini con il naso grifagno non mi piacciano, decisamente!” (I don’t like men with beaked noses, not at all!)
In this brief extract I can’t possibly approach the naturalness with which the characters play their parts in the film. Real people, most of whom aren’t professional actors, playing real life – from the close-ups of Gianni’s on-screen mother meticulously applying her lipstick and arranging her hair with its large, beauty-parlor curls to the empty Roman streets, left for tourists and those few without anywhere else to go.
The movie was written and directed by Gianni Di Gregorio, whose personal history of looking after his mother inspired the project. He also plays the leading role. The story revolves around the character of Gianni, a likable middle-aged man who lives with and takes care of his elderly mother Valeria, a woman in her ninth decade with a larger than life personality. The two are behind with their condominium fees, and the building’s administrator proposes to pay off their debt if Gianni looks after his mother for the Ferragosto holiday.
The number of old ladies quickly multiplies and Gianni has his hands full shopping, preparing meals and most importantly dealing with the strong personalities and particular needs of the individuals in his little group. As the film progresses, the women’s protective exteriors gradually give way. They make real connections and in the end are sad to see their time together end.
RENT, BORROW OR BUY MID-AUGUST LUNCH
With this film, I could enumerate every particular of the plot without any need for a “spoiler alert.” The story must be experienced firsthand. The characters draw you in with poignancy and gentle humor.
This little gem of Italian cinema is a delightful slice of life. At 75 minutes, it’s over all too soon. Strains of the melancholically humorous accordion music will continue to bounce in your head long after the last credit has rolled by.
If you can’t get to Italy, Mid-August Lunch is the next best thing to being there. And you can bring your children along.
Have you seen this delightful movie? Please share your impressions!
Interested in Italian culture? Read about the fascinating regions in the toe and instep of the Italian boot in Calabria: The Other Italy and Basilicata: Authentic Italy my non-fiction, award-winning books about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in Southern Italy.
Many Italians head to the beach for their summer holidays. Here’s my take on Italy’s beach experience: Reflection: The Italian Beach.
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