Mid August Lunch (Artificial Eye) is a beautifully observed mix of comedy and drama from Italian writer-director Gianni di Gregorio.
Although the 60-year-old is best known to UK audiences as the screenwriter of Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone’s superb 2008 drama about organised crime), he has opted for a very different kind of film for his directorial debut.
Based on personal experiences, Di Gregorio essentially plays Gianni, a bachelor in his late 50s who is the full-time carer of his 90-year-old mother (Valeria De Franciscis).
Shot entirely on location (some of it in Di Gregorio’s old flat) with a non-professional cast, it focuses on the relationships between family members and strangers in the flat, but also explores the experience of ageing with a grat deal of charm and insight.
Gianni and his mother live in the Roman district of Trastevere and the film is set around the eve of Ferragosto, the annual celebration on August 15th of the ascension of the Virgin Mary into Heaven which empties the city.
Because he owes favours to his landlord and doctor, Giovanni is persuaded to look after their mothers as a favour, along with an aunt for good measure.
The film then is a gentle depiction of their time together as he drinks, smokes and cooks for the older women.
There is plenty of humour too, as tensions simmer over television, food, medication and night time escapades, but it is one grounded in real life experience, never feeling forced or contrived.
The observations and details are superbly evoked, but the central appeal of the film is the humanity beating at the heart of it.
All of the characters are treated with a respect and dignity that is all too rare in modern society, let alone films featuring old people.
Instead of being hectoring caricatures, they have a depth and interior life which is charmingly presented and free from cheap sentimentality.
Made in a minimalist style using natural light for a very low budget of around £430,000, with Matteo Garrone producing, it fully deserved the acclaim heaped on it at various festivals around the world.
The DVD has the following extras:
- Interview with Gianni Di Gregorio: An interesting extra in which the actor, writer and director discusses the film but also visits the older women who star in it. He deliberately selected non-professional actors and it was a wise choice – off screen they appear just as interesting.
- Theatrical Trailer (which you can see above)
> Buy Mid-August Lunch on DVD from Amazon UK
> Mid-August Lunch at the IMDb