Watching the lauded but fatally slight Mid-August Lunch, a comedy of manners about a middle-aged Italian who finds himself caring for four spunky old dames, it's hard to believe that writer, director and star Gianni Di Gregorio also co-wrote the bloody mafia hit Gomorrah. Amiably self-deprecating to a fault, the semi-autobiographical Lunch features Di Gregorio as Gianni, an aging slacker who cares for his demanding mother (Valeria de Franciscis) in their decrepit Rome apartment. Forced to take in several other matriarchs in order to win a reprieve on his overdue rent, Gianni wakes up to a functioning community of vibrant broads (all gallantly played by non-pros) whose preference for fun over balanced cholesterol levels provides whatever charm can be wrung from this desultory slice of life. By contrast — and if that's the point, it remains unexplored — Gianni is a pale ghost of a man who desires nothing and does little more than rustle up dainty dishes, knock back white wine by the liter, and, in a coda you can see coming from scene one, whirl the randy old girls around in a valedictory living-room dance. Indeed, the only whiff of passion comes from the sadistic care that has gone into putting garish clothes and makeup on the mother, which give her the ghoulish air of Jeanne Moreau in a fun-house mirror. Of all the ritzy festival awards Mid-August Lunch has won (including Best First Film at Venice), it rates at least Bologna's Golden Snail Award for Best Food Feature.
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