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Originally published Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Mid-August Lunch': Take time out for this Italian repast on film

A review of the movie "Mid-August Lunch," a charming look at an episode in a family's life in a small Italian town.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Mid-August Lunch,' with Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Calì, Grazia Cesarini Sforza, Alfonso Santagata. Written and directed by Di Gregorio. 75 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Guild 45th.

There's a certain kind of peaceful quiet that can sweep over a city neighborhood where everyone's left town for the holiday; a pleasant sense that the air — and life itself — is moving more slowly.

Gianni Di Gregorio's charming "Mid-August Lunch" finds that calmness. Not much happens in this wisp of a movie (it's barely 75 minutes), and not much is necessary; it's all about finding a mood and letting it sneak up and envelop the watcher.

Gianni (played by Di Gregorio, who cast nonactors in most of the lead roles) is a middle-age Italian man with a fondness for a glass of wine or three. He shares a comfortably shabby Rome apartment with his 90-something mamma (Valeria De Franciscis) and worries — but not too much — about how to pay their condo debts. Just before the mid-August holiday Ferrogosto, the building manager (Alfonso Santagata) approaches with a plan: Will Gianni take in the manager's mother, just for the holiday, in exchange for some erasing of the debts?

That makes two elderly ladies, but wait: The manager's mother (Marina Cacciotti) comes accompanied by his Aunt Maria (Maria Cali). Then the doctor pops round for a visit, and turns out to have a mother (Grazia Cesarini Sforza) needing a holiday bed as well. The long-suffering Gianni takes all of this in stride, spending the holiday cooking delicious-looking meals, making up beds, refereeing as the ladies quarrel and his mother frets about propriety (you can't serve guests in the kitchen, she insists, but he does anyway), and smoking endless cigarettes.

Di Gregorio lets the camera wander languidly around the apartment, letting us see the worn-soft books and faded pictures that signify a long tenancy; you think about the passing of time, wondering what Gianni and his mother looked like when those books were first put on the shelves. And he lets us, quietly, become part of this fractious but ultimately irresistible house party. "Raise your chalices to our nice friendship," says Gianni's mother, at a festive meal near the movie's end. If I'd had one handy I'd have raised it; you might, too.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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