Having just returned from an Ohio family reunion, I particularly enjoyed this quiet but entertaining Italian film that focuses on family, flavor, and food for living well. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio who also plays the lead role of Gianni, the 50-ish son of a genteel lady in her 80s, Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto) takes place in a nearly-empty Rome. With so many Romans at the beach for the August 15 holiday of Pranzo di Ferragosto (the Feast of Assumption), the city feels emptied to those who stay behind.
Gianni’s life, however, has never seemed more full of people (actually, ladies) and he’s busier than ever during this down time for the city, having become the temporary minder of three ladies in addition to his Mama. Suddenly responsible for a set of four sweet but strong ladies in their 80s, Gianni confronts the challenge with eventual verve that he propels with numerous bottles of white wine. The food featured in Mid-August Lunch inspires the action and brings the individual characters together for meals at key points in the narrative. So central to the story are these two meals that their recipes are included in the DVD booklet.
Pasta Al Forno
Soon after she arrives, Maria, the most demure of the four ladies in the film, begins immediately to produce her famous Pasta Al Forno that plays a transgressive role later in the film. As the pasta bakes, Grazia arrives with a list of foods and drink she must avoid, per the direction of her son the doctor. After too many years of “no tomatoes, no alcohol, no pasta” and other prohibitions, Grazia seizes the moment and raids the fridge late at night to finally get her fill of some outstanding pasta casserole. “You’ve eaten all the pasta!” cries Gianni, who was supposed to prevent the ladies from eating or doing anything forbidden. However, he’s only one man against four powerful older ladies so he has his work cut out for him. Not surprisingly, the ladies win.
Filetti Di Persico Con Patate
From the start of the film, Gianni comports himself as the good son he clearly was for his own mother, and he extends that kindness to the other ladies in his care during this Catholic holiday that celebrates the assumption to heaven of the Virgin Mary. After a night of octogenarian debauchery that included discovering Grazia’s pasta raid and retrieving youthful Marina from a neighboring restaurant but only after drinking with her for hours, Gianni wakes to find the ladies making plans for another meal together at what has become for them a most pleasant vacation from their more structured and monitored normal lives. He had planned to have the ladies all back to their respective families by noon, but they have made other plans.
In the midst of this mid-August near-shutdown of the entire city of Rome, Gianni works to collect and prepare a meal appropriate for his guests, who now will eat and drink according to their own desires and not according to a set of prohibitions. As he travels the streets of Rome on the back of a friend’s scooter to collect the ingredients for the meal, he travels beyond his neighborhood and out to the ocean to buy fresh perch filets direct from the fisherman. Another glass of wine, and it’s back to prepare this special meal for the ladies.
The small moments of the ladies in this film capture so much truth of human relationships as we age, such as when we see just a glimpse of Maria happily trying on Valeria’s collection of fancy hats through a distant doorway. The opportunity for freedom does not often present itself so easily to these great women as it did over the course of this Pranzo di Ferragosto holiday. Loathe to lose the freedom they have discovered at Gianni’s, they plot to keep the party going. Their children may have thought they were escaping responsibility, but it was the ladies who experienced the true liberation and companionship.
Slow Food Rome
The food scenes propel the action of this film but also reinforce the benefits in improved relationships promoted through a Slow Food approach to eating and living. Conversation grows during the production of a good meal whether in the kitchen or setting the table for the guests. Good food cooked with love is one of the best gifts to share with your family.