It’s no secret that many Italian men stay at home with mamma until they get married, or at least until mamma finally kicks them out into the big, bad world. But this low-key Italian charmer, which is more of a touching, humorous short story than a fully fleshed novel, takes that idea to extreme lengths. Writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio (one of the writers on last year’s ‘Gomorrah’, but don’t expect any guns here) plays Gianni, a placid Roman in his fifties who lives with his elderly mum Valeria (Valeria De Franciscis), a refined 80 year old who always looks like she’s dressed for dinner at the Ritz back in 1963.
This loving pair live in a comfortable city-centre apartment, surrounded by good furniture and knickknacks accumulated over many years, but we know they have little cash as the manager of their building comes knocking, wondering when they’re going to pay their service charges. In place of a cheque, Gianni agrees to look after the manager’s mother for the weekend. However, when the mother, Grazia, turns up, she has another relative, Maria, in tow. Within hours, Gianni has also agreed to take care of Marina, his doctor’s mother, which means he’ll be spending the mid-August holiday (ferragosto) in the company of four women with a combined age of around 350.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a comedy, even though it puts a warm grin on your face from beginning to end. The real beauty of the film lies in how Di Gregorio quietly realises the relationships between Gianni and the four women. These ladies might need a bit of looking after, but they still like to talk about boys, eat good food and even, in one case, wander off in the middle of the night for a furtive drink.
Underlying this amiable, thoughtful film is an assumption that age should bring with it respect – and however exasperated he gets, Gianni abides by this code completely. Oddly, the film reminded me a little of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, partly because Gianni, with his silly domestic horse-trading, comes across as a much kinder incarnation of Larry David and partly because it shares a freewheeling concern for the absurdity of the everyday, such as when Gianni has to buy food from a local fisherman to feed his unexpected guests. But this is very much a real and warm enterprise, not least because Di Gregorio extracts such lovely performances from his elderly cast. A treat.