Monday, January 30, 2012

38. A SUMMER IN GENOA (2008)

College professor Joe (Colin Firth) decides to spend the summer in Genoa, Italy with his two daughters to help them cope with surviving an automobile accident in which their mother (Hope Davis) is killed. The youngest daughter, 11-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine), was responsible for the accident and is reacting to her festering guilt with nightmares and bed-wetting. Her 17-year-old sister Kelly (Willa Holland) expresses her anger toward Mary through passive aggression and verbal abuse. Unable to console one another and aware of the fragility of the parental bond, both girls seek to replace that love now absent in their lives in different ways; Kelly by exploring her sexuality with local jerks who own boats and motorbikes and teach her how to curse in Italian, and Mary by lighting candles and communicating with her mother's spirit. Meanwhile, Joe must navigate the murky waters of his own widowhood while dealing with the tension between his daughters and their self-protective remoteness from him, while fending off the advances of an old college friend who is now a colleague (Catherine Keener), and an obviously attracted young student (Margherita Romeo).

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, A SUMMER IN GENOA offers fine performances and lovely scenery, but it grates in its attempt to balance the magic realist angle of Mary's arc with too much visual "realism" -- incessantly unsteady camerawork and scenes that cut together jaggedly and elliptically, as if excerpted and slapped together from a larger story. All the main characters are in some kind of pain and avoiding the need to deal with it and each other, so no one is forthcoming enough to be likeable. The climax guides the family, as if by the intervention of a ghostly hand, to a final group hug, but it hardly solves their problems or even begins to. The film ends abruptly, with Joe escorting his girls to their first day of school in Genoa; it may be that a new phase of life and story begins for them here, but the film asks too much of us emotionally to abandon us with so little. Well-acted, believable, but to little apparent purpose. The interesting score includes such unexpected cues as Georges Delerue's main theme from Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT and "Lemon Incest," credited only to Serge Gainsbourg though what we hear of it was actually sung by his young daughter Charlotte.

Viewed on Showtime Women HD.

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