As with most of the films in the 2009 revisit so far, I had very little idea of what Mid-August Lunch would be about. I might have read the one-sentence Netflix descriptor, but I was basing my inclusion of it almost entirely on title, poster, and the fact I knew it was Italian.
Why then, would I tag that movie along with The Diary of Anne Frank, a film I not only already knew about, but a film that I had seen most of a few years ago (when it aired on PBS in the US)? It was mostly random, I suppose, and I figured that if I had no reason to discuss them together, I could always review them separately. Fortunately for my viewing experience, there was a connection. Don’t you love it when that happens?
Anne Frank, for those of you who don’t know, was a 13-year-old when she went into hiding with her family in 1940s Amsterdam. She hid because she was Jewish. Her life, which was already set to change because she was entering adolescence, was about to be flipped upside down by Hitler and war. During these teenage years in which most people learn life isn’t fair, the lesson would be even harsher for her.
Neither film is particularly plot-heavy. The majority of The Diary of Anne Frank takes place in one location, and for better or worse, the film is much more focused on characters and the interplay therein. Asked to describe what Mid-August Lunch is about, I would say, “food, money, and old people,” and I would be 100% correct. A man takes in three old ladies as favors he owes for not being able to pay rent or bills. And that’s all that happens, really.
The major link between these two films is that they’re both about loneliness.
The teenage angst in The Diary of Anne Frank is often obvious and overdone, and the tension is occasionally forced. Sometimes, it fails to be anything but a scope-less portrait of a growing girl. But it tells a human story, and it does it well for the most part. This isn’t a thriller reenactment or a war epic. It’s an adaptation of the actual diary of Anne Frank, and therefore relies completely on the small things, and whether or not you’ll buy and appreciate them.
Anne (played exceptionally well by Ellie Kendrick) is lonely. She claims no one understands her. These are basic youth complaints, but the fact that it is set against the dreadful background of World War II is what made her writings artifacts, and what makes her special.
The old ladies in Mid-August Lunch are lonely, if not completely alone, as well. Their families neither need nor want them. Gianni takes them in because he’s being forced to, but by the time comes for them to leave, he’ll only let them go if he’s forced to.
In that movie, people find each other and they do live happily-ever-after. In The Diary of Anne Frank, however, things a little more complicated. People find each other, then drift apart, then get angry at each other, then make up and do it all again, because they’re living together in a confined space that wasn’t really meant for living.
But the beautiful tragic truth of the whole film is that they are lucky, as a few characters exclaim with surprising hope throughout the film. They’re lucky not only to still have each other, but also the not be dead yet. And even though their case is special and much more dire, the same goes for the characters in Mid-August Lunch and for us all.
The Diary of Anne Frank: It is at its best when it reaches beyond the trite melodrama and lets Anne be flawed and hit real emotion. Great performances from Kendrick, Iain Glen as Otto Frank, and Tim Dantay as Mr. Kugler. I take or leave Geoff Breton as Peter. 3/4.
Mid-August Lunch: A fun, lively, but modestly paced slice-of-life film that explores people’s need to be needed. Lead actor/director/screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio seems to be talented in all his roles. 3/4.