Mid-August Lunch

From the co-screenwriter of Gomorrah comes this no-holds-barred story of one man’s struggle, torn from the pages of real life… Gianni (played by Gianni Di Gregorio) lives with his mama, and the fees for her Rome condo are in arrears. In the dog days of August, the building manager makes him an offer he can’t refuse: play host to his mother for a day or two (he later throws in an aged aunt as well). Gianni’s doctor adds another octogenarian to the mix, and the under-occupied Gianni suddenly finds himself catering to the demands of four little old ladies.

What sounds like a dumb sitcom setup turns out to be a very funny, very subtly observed 75 minutes that, whether scene by scene or as a whole, never outlasts its welcome. The old-timers, played by understated nonprofessionals with great faces, are neither cutesy nor eccentric. The comedy comes from their doing what they want to do, with varying degrees of passivity and independence, leaving Gianni to cope and wrangle as best he can. The stakes are low—deciding which room to have dinner in, for example—but Di Gregorio and his cast make the most of things with natural dialogue and timing.

The long-faced filmmaker makes for a perfect beleaguered straight man, glass of wine never far from reach. Shot handheld and mostly confined to the apartment, the film is (despite some mild food tourism) a delightful feat.