Gianni Di Gregorio: interview
Elegant and charming, 60-year-old Gianni Di Gregorio, the writer and director of 'Mid-August Lunch', trained as a theatre actor and director, before moving into film, assistant directing and screenwriting for filmmakers such as Marco Colli and Matteo Garrone, notably sharing prizes for the latter's Mafia exposé 'Gomorrah'. His funny, touching, beautifully directed debut, 'Mid-August Lunch', about the relationship between Roman bachelor, his elderly mother and her circle of friends, has won many prizes, among them the award for Best First Feature at last year's London Film Festival.
‘I wrote it back in 2000, but no producer would back it because it was about very old people and it involved old actors. They said, “What on earth are you thinking of?”. It was Matteo Garrone who had the courage to produce it. He provided the funds himself, a budget of some €500,000.’
What interested you in people past the prime of their lives?
‘Well, I lived with my mother for ten years through the ’90s. My mother, too, was a widow and I was an only child and the Mediterranean mother is very possessive. Through her I came to know the world of elderly people, their strength, their vitality, but also their vulnerabilities and their weaknesses, their dreams and aspirations.’
How did you cast Valeria de Franciscis in the role of the mother?
‘She’s 93. I knew her. She’s a friend of the family and she’s never acted in her life. But she was a very worldly lady. One of the other ladies, who is 90, is my real auntie. These old ladies proved the strongest, most dynamic ones out of the lot. In the evening, after shooting, I was absolutely exhausted and they were saying: “So what are we going to do tomorrow?” ’
You shot in a real flat?
‘It’s my house in the centre of Rome where I lived with my mother. It’s where this whole thing took place, the real story.’
The film is very good on manners, not critical but very observant.
‘Thank you, I’m very happy you said that. It’s the way I was brought up and also very often it has a comic effect. Because a lot of comedy is derived from being limited by having to be polite: the constraints of my upbringing.’
Was your mother an aristocrat?
You play the son, Gianni. Was it hard to direct yourself?
‘I tried initially with someone else before we started shooting. But the relationship with the little old ladies was not right. I thought that a professional actor might be too distant from the old ladies.’
At the Venice Film Festival you got an award for the film. How did that feel?
‘Wonderful, because many people – even older than me – later told me: “So, I can do this too!” It was a lesson of hope. It was wonderful for me because I’d tried about three times to make a film. It was really lovely. I felt like a child.’
Read our review of the film here
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