Michael Winterbottom’s Genova is quite the experience. A slice of life look at a father and his two daughters as they cope with the loss of their mother in a terribly tragic accident; the film unfolds with refreshing naturalism, free of cloying sentimentality. Absent too are any earnest platitudes or the melodramatic struggles of a single father shouldering the weight of parental responsibility. Instead, life – as it must – goes on, with night terrors, sisterly resentment and even furtive steps towards new love played out to subtle and engrossing effect.
Colin Firth is effortlessly compassionate and stoic as Joe, an English academic who relocates his grieving family to Genoa in order to accept a teaching job sought out from him by a friend Barbara (a pitch-perfect Catherine Keener). Perla Haney-Jardine and The OC’s Willa Holland take on the hefty roles of Joe’s daughters Mary and Kelly, both bringing remarkable maturity and nuance to their respective characters.
Indeed the verisimilitude of Winterbottom’s screenplay and cinematography are so engaging that some of the film’s dramatic flourishes miss the mark. Mary’s disappearance on the island as well as the climactic (and all too convenient) reunification form unnecessary additions to this sophisticated and largely restrained film. The same might be said for Winterbottom’s treatment of Marianne (Hope Davis) after her death, but somehow this fits within Mary’s experience of grief and her exorcising of guilt.
Winterbottom is on much more affecting ground when he journeys through Genoa’s streets alongside his protagonists. The titular city is assuredly a central character, with its labyrinthine lanes suggestive of as much mystery as malice. Visually and thematically, the city provides an illuminating setting for Winterbottom’s contemplative look at life after loss.
Australian Poster by Carnival StudioPublished in The Brag.
Australian release date: 5 November 2009