dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Laurence Coriat, Michael Winterbottom
with Colin Firth, Willa Holland, Perla Haney-Jardine, Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Margherita Romeo, Dante Ciari, Alessandro Giuggioli, Monica Bennati, Gherardo Crucitti, Gabriella Santinelli, Gary Wilmes
release US Nov.08 afm, UK 27.Mar.09
08/UK Film4 1h34
Haunted by their mother: Haney-Jardine and Holland

firth keener davis
London film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Genova There's a powerful emotional undertone to this film that overcomes its slightly thin structure and give us plenty to chew on, especially if we've experienced some sort of personal tragedy.

After his wife (Davis) dies in a car accident, Joe (Firth) accepts a teaching job in Genova, Italy, to start with a fresh slate, and moves from Chicago with his two daughters. Sullen teen Kelly (Holland) detaches herself from them and starts seeing boys, going to parties and generally wearing herself out, while haunted pre-teen Mary (Haney-Jardine) clings to her mother's memory. Joe's university friend Barbara (Keener) helps them settle in, and notices some problems Joe can't see. Is another tragedy coming to this devastated family?

Winterbottom is inverting the themes and structure of Nicholas Roeg's classic Don't Look Now, which was set in rival city Venice with a parent seeking the ghost of a child, instead of the other way round. This film certainly plays with similarly haunting imagery, a growing sense of danger and a fatalistic approach in which tragedy is something we must live with every day. This family has experienced something truly horrific, forever altering how they interact with each other and with themselves.

Firth is superb as usual, hovering around the edges because this really isn't his story, although there's plenty of history with Barbara, plus a spark of interest with a student (Romeo). The film focuses on the girls, and Holland and Haney-Jardine bring a real sense of pain and honesty to their roles. Despite their anguish, these are life-loving girls who take to the Italian culture like naturals. They are especially good on screen together, showing a strikingly believable balance of love, resentment and misunderstanding.

And this balance is what the film is about, despite the hints that something nasty is coming. And this is clearly what Winterbottom is digging into with his gritty, low-fi approach, mimicking his work on A Mighty Heart with hand-held, murky video that catches the beauty of the location but keeps the focus on the people rather than the settings. In the end, it may feel like a somewhat weightless slice-of-life drama, but there's a lot of substance in here if you look for it.

cert 15 themes, language 21.Oct.08 lff

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall