Marianne (Hope Davis) dies in a car accident. As they grieve, her husband Joe (Colin Firth) takes a teaching assignment in Genova, Italy, taking their daughters Kelly (Willa Holland) and Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) with him. Teenaged Kelly is straining at the leash, wanting to spend more time with the local boys than with her family. Meanwhile, ten-year-old Mary, guilt-ridden because she feels she caused the fatal accident, soon begins to sense that her dead mother is close at hand...
Since his big-screen debut in 1995 with Butterfly Kiss, Michael Winterbottom has been hard to keep up with. Genova is his fifeenth cinema feature. Following the docu-drama A Mighty Heart, made for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's production company and starring the latter, Genova is a slow-burning family drama with a supernatural twist.
We're in Don't Look Now territory, with the Italian setting and the death and apparent reappearance of a family member. However, Winterbottom's film, co-written with Laurence Coriat, has different concerns. It works better as a study of a family working through its grief, and there's much emphasis on the relationships between father and daughters, and also with Barbara (Christine Keener), Joe's University friend. Or maybe she was more than that? We never find out: this is a film of subtle hints and nuances rather than firm conclusions.
Winterbottom and his regular DP Marcel Zyskind shoot this in a loose fashion, making much use of a handfeld DV camera. The film's look, shot in natural light as it was, may be disconcerting: there's not the usual “balancing” of light sources, so strong sunlight often contrasts with deep shadows. All the actors give fine performances, with Firth showing how good he can be. Hope Davis makes the most of her brief screentime. But the film belongs to its two younger actors, who give assured performances. Willa Holland is Brian De Palma's stepdaughter, while Perla Haney-Jardine previously appeared in Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Spider-Man 3.
If you're expecting a horror film, you may be disappointed: although Winterbottom does build up to some tense sequences, this film is really more of a character piece. Winterbottom has always been a “European” director in sensibility, often favouring mood and characterisation over plot and action. That said, a finale set in busy traffic demonstrates that he can keep audiences on the edge of thei seats if he needs to. Genova is further evidence that Michael Winterbottom is one of the most consistently interesting and versatile – and prolific – directors around.
Last updated: 14/05/2018 04:27:14