TIFF Review: GENOVA
When a new Michael Winterbottom fim comes out it is always interesting to see where exactly he is going to go with it. Certainly Winterbottom has one of the most diverse c.v.'s in the cinema with things ranging as far as Tristram Shandy to Welcome to Sarajevo to 24 Hour Party People, to Code 46. With Genova, he explores the rhythms, sites, beauty and danger of the large Italian city from three perspectives, a young girl, a teenager and a middle-aged university professor. All three of these people are in the same family, one recently stricken with the loss of the mother/wife. Naturally lit and laced with some stomach clenching intense moments, the film casually recalls Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now filtered though aspects of intimate Winterbottom's own urban wanderings of A Mighty Heart, where he burrowed into strange corners of Karachi. The film us a curious mixture of storytelling types. It is graceful drama on the grieving process merged, both smoothly and meticulously, with an intimate documentary style and a novel execution of maximum suspense. Sensitive parents beware, while Genova is attractively interspersed with honesty, the film is really quite nerve wracking.
The film opens with a violent car crash along an American highway. It is established early in this scene that things are going to happen, and Winterbottom lets the scene play out so that it is almost unbearable. Traffic noises are amplified in a subtle way for maximum effect. The mother doesn't make it, the daughters do. Their father (Colin Firth) retreats from their Chicago home, relocating his still dumbstruck family to Italy in the hopes a change of scenery will be good for him and the girls. While there are no objections from the girls, the youngest, eight-year old Mary, is wracked with guilt for distracting her mother potentially causing the accident and clearly is having trouble dealing with things. Upon getting to the city of Genova, she begins to have hallucinations of her mother which are both comforting and sinister. An family friend, an ex-girlfriend of Dad, played superbly by Catherine Keener, helps ease them into the city, showing them the sites, and becoming a bit of a surrogate mother to Mary. While Dad begins his teaching position in Genova, the girls are more or less left on their own with the city, their only obligation being weekly piano lessons up the street. Kelly the eldest daughter, seventeen and sexually budding, takes huge gulps of her new European surroundings and attitudes, busying her time as a bit of a wild party girl, neglecting her duties of taking care of Mary (whom see somewhat also blames for the death of Mom). Kelly's carefree exploits, an Mary's wanderings are the beating heart of the film. To young girls, the dark, maze-like alleyways are full of wonders and dangers. During the trips on the back of a Vespa through the busy and chaotic streets the film is positively electric. The culmination of the three lost souls (daughters and dad) anxious and running make for an interesting metaphor. It may on the surface seem low key and even wispy (plot certainly takes a back seat to tone), but is powerful and professional work from a director at the top of his game. Chalk this up as another success for the UK's greatest chameleon director.