Sunday, October 26, 2008

London Film Festival Day 12 - GENOVA

Michael Winterbottom has an impressive track record as a director, spanning genres from hyper-real reportage in A MIGHTY HEART to the witty, post-modern A COCK AND BULL STORY. But, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE aside, I've always been a bit frustrated by Winterbottom's movies. They seem to get four-fifths of the way there, in terms of performance, integrity and style, but miss that final energy that grips you and makes you want to watch a movie again.

Winterbottom's latest movie, GENOVA, is another case in point. It's beautifully filmed on location in Genoa. It has a strong cast, led by Catherine Keener and Colin Firth. It has an earnest subject and Winterbottom treats it with restraint and respect. But the movie never really goes anywhere. It dangles promising ideas in front of us but leaves us hanging. In short, it's a ninety minute tease.

As the movie opens we see a mother (Hope Davis) and her two young daughters driving on a highway. The car crashes and the mother dies. We then move to a snowy funeral. The father (Colin Firth) is taking his two daughters to Genoa for a year. He'll teach in a university, they'll go to school, and the "change will do them good". Arriving in Genoa they are met by an old college chum (Catherine Keener) who clearly has a thing for the father.

We seem to be in the same sort of territory as Nic Roeg's classic film about grief in Italy - DON'T LOOK NOW. The narrow, dark streets of Genoa are as menacing and bewildering as the Venetian canals. Winterbottom even hints that we'll be dealing with dark supernatural material. The younger daughter finds a photo of the landlord's dead wife in the flat and the glass mysteriously cracks. And then she starts seeing and hearing her dead mother. The feeling of menace builds towards a crescendo but without any final pay-off. Maybe Winterbottom has no interest in pursuing genre film and wants to go for something more real - like QUIET CHAOS - but if so, why introduce those elements in the first place?

GENOVA played Cannes, Toronto and London 2008.

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