Made in Italy (2020)
Labelling a film ‘heart-warming comedy’ is like offering tepid weak tea in a paper cup. While that description may suit many films, it is way off target with Made in Italy (2020), a film that is being undeservedly panned as lightweight and predictable. Sure, it takes time to come to the boil, but the result is an intense portrait of suppressed grief and a dysfunctional father-son relationship.
The set-piece storyline is simple. Jack (Michael Richardson) runs a London gallery that is about to be taken from him as part of divorce proceedings. In order to buy the gallery, he talks his estranged father and artist Robert (Liam Neeson) into renovating and selling the Tuscany villa left to them two decades ago by Robert’s wife. They find the villa in derelict condition but roll up their sleeves to make it sellable, under the watchful advice of local real estate agent Kate (Lindsay Duncan). As renovations proceed, Robert and Kate develop a romantic spark, and for symmetry, Jack is smitten by café owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello). When the villa’s former glory is restored, the father and son reassess their lives.
All of this narrative detail, plus picturesque Italian travelogue-style photography, provide the visually pleasant and lightly amusing connective tissue for more serious themes that slowly surface in this story. Robert has never come to terms with the loss of his wife: he has shielded Jack from the past to protect him from painful memories. While clearing the attic Jack discovers a sketch of himself as a baby cradled by his mother and it is the first time he sees her image. It is an intense emotional moment: Jack’s previously blank mental space is replaced with images and things that Robert talks about for the first time. United in belated grief and healing, the pair also find each other.
Made in Italy is not without faults. Acting performances by stars and support cast can feel stilted and the ‘comedy’ script has few, if any, laughs. While the pace may be uneven, the filming offers ample visual pleasure adorned with typically rich Italian colours and textures. Neeson and Richardson are real-life father and son who have experienced tragedy, and there are scenes where this can be felt. Viewer response may boil down to whether you can relate to the complex ways that Robert and Jack deal with their emotional losses and gains. With the villa restoration metaphor in the background, they peel back dense layers of emotion to find new wholeness.
Director: James D’Arcy
Stars: Liam Neeson, Michael Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, Valeria Bilello