From the Archives: Genova (2008)

6 Mar

Michael Winterbottom has certainly enjoyed an eclectic directorial career. And while his subjects have been as diverse as the Bosnian War in “Welcome to Sarajevo,” the Manchester music scene in “24 Hour Party People” and the plight of Gitmo inmates in “The Road to Guantanamo,” his work has always paid particular attention to the human aspect of the story. Family relationships form the crux of his latest picture, “Genova,” as he delivers an intimate portrait of the dynamics of a family dealing with loss, youthful rebellion, guilt and cultural change.

A fraught yet inevitable prologue results in the death of Marianne (Hope Davis), a doting mum whose widow Joe (Colin Firth) relocates to Genoa on a teaching sabbatical with his two young daughters Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Kelly (Willa Holland). In the claustrophobic medieval streets of Genoa, Kelly finds both the sanctuary and the freedom to indulge in teenage rebellion as her younger sister Mary – haunted by visions of her dead mother – is wracked with feelings of guilt and grief over the circumstances of her death.Joe meanwhile juggles his new role as a single parent and grieving widow, as he contends with the affections of old flame Barbara (a superbly irritating and unsympathetic Catherine Keener) and his student Rosa (Margherita Romeo), while dealing with an errant Kelly and a traumatized Mary.

Firth’s Joe is wonderfully understated, Ms. Holland shows considerable promise as the brattish Kelly, (although she effectively recycles her turn as Kaitlin Cooper in “The O.C.”), while Ms. Haney-Jardine delivers an incredibly mature turn as Mary. Meanwhile, Winterbottom’s involved direction lends the picture an up close and familiar feel, which is compounded by his thoughtful use of natural light and a sparse and improvisational screenplay.

“Genova” is a raw, almost intrusive insight into a family struggling to come to terms with tragedy and new beginnings; it’s a skilfully crafted, beautifully shot film that can be excused for its slightly lethargic pace and lack of action because it is so carefully considered.

(originally featured at www.criticsnotebook.com on 19/02/09)

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