Michael Winterbottom :: UK :: 2008 :: 1h34
Joe (Colin Firth), is a widow who moves to Italy with his two daughters to escape the painful memories of his wife’s death in a car accident. His two daughters were in the car when it happened and the youngest one is submerged in feelings of guilt. Joe protects little Mary all he can, as she struggles with nightmares and visions, to try to live their lives normally.
With a hot southern summer to go before school starts, Kelly, the oldest daughter, finds herself a backseat on a Vespa. Hiding her new friends from her father, she discovers the early pleasures (and disappointments) of becoming a woman. Her first steps into adulthood naturally conflict with Joe’s demands as the head of their family and her little sister’s wish for companionship. Joe too, struggles between the promise of new romance (ah Italy!) and the pain of the loss of his wife and the demands of his family.
Although the movie is slow and mostly filmed in close-ups, the tranquility, romanticism and heat of the Italian coastal city never really develops. We see the long alleyways and the interplay of the sun and the shadows which so marks Mediterranean cities, with the famous washing hanging high above the streets, the young men on scooters hanging around… but there is a music in the air which keeps a tension, a fear in the air as if something will happen to the girls at any moment. The fear of them having an accident, or being attacked, is overwhelming. This is the feeling Joe tries so hard to suppress. But should we be feeling this pressure too? The constant tension and fear start to conflict with the latin lightness of being which slowly creeps under the skin of the characters. The tension becomes excessive and unnecessary for a family drama creating a hollowness to the film which should not be there. A pity, for what essentially, is a touching portrait of a mourning family.