There used to be a TV panel show titled Life Begins at 80. That may be true, and I’ll find out in about ten years, but meanwhile Gianni Di Gregorio has gotten a head start.

Di Gregorio is an Italian filmmaker who got people to take him seriously when he was in his late 50s. He did it with a film called Pranzo di Ferragosto, known in English as Mid-August Lunch or Lunch for Ferragosto. “Ferragosto” — from the Latin meaning “feasts of Augustus” — is a mid-summer holiday that has its origins in the Roman Empire.

Di Gregorio, who has said that he had trouble getting financial backing because his 2008 film is about old people, directs and plays the principal character — Gianni. The use of the name is not so much the result of a lack of imagination as it is a result of the autobiographical aspects of the film.

Gianni — the character, not the director — keeps himself supplied with bottles of “nice” wine, and puts them on the tab.

Gianni, the character, is a middle-aged man who lives in Rome with his aged mother in a condominium they cannot afford. Gianni hasn’t paid the maintenance fee in two years, and the condo administrator comes around to say that Gianni and his Mama may be evicted. But the administrator has a problem that Gianni is in a position to solve, and the quid pro quo would be cancellation of some of Gianni’s debts. The administrator wants to take a short vacation, and he would like to leave his own aged mother in Gianni’s care. Gianni is in no position to turn down this offer, and he agrees to accept the woman as a guest.

Almost simultaneously, Gianni’s family doctor  arrives for a house call. He, too, it turns out, needs a place to park his Mom — and there’s something in it for Gianni. When the doctor arrives with his mother, he brings along an aunt as well, and suddenly Gianni finds himself the chef and maître d’hôtel for a gaggle of ancient females who don’t always do as they are told.

The story of this odd situation and the events that result from it are told in this film, which DiGregorio directed, in manner so understated that one gets the feeling of  observing people going about the minutiae of their  everyday lives. Much of the dialogue (in Italian with English subtitles) consists of mumbled sentence fragments. The interchanges among the characters feels so natural that I suspect that much of the story was filmed without a firm script, or perhaps with no script at all.

Gianni presides at dinner with his mother, left, and guests. His mother is played by Valeria De Franciscis, who was 93 when this film was made.

If the cast didn’t depend heavily on a script, that would be appropriate, because several of them were not actors. For example, Valeria De Franciscis, who plays Gianni’s mother, was a family friend who, the director wisely thought, fit the part. De Franciscis was so well suited  to the role that she played Di Gregorio’s mother again in his 2011 film, “The Salt of Life.”

Mid-August Lunch  was well received when it first appeared and won some prestigious awards. It is  highly regarded for the light touch with which it portrays some of the realities of middle and old age. It also reflects the relationship many Italian men have with their doting and possessive mothers. Many a tenor has enthusiastically sung about this phenomenon: “Mama . . . Tu sei la vita, e per la vita non ti lascio mai piu.” And, in fact, Di Gregorio shot much of this film in the apartment in which he lived for many years with his elderly mother.

Di Gregorio is, by reputation, a charming guy, and he certainly communicates that through the character in this film. He got off to a late start as a filmmaker, but I hope we’ll be seeing him and his work a lot more,



After we watched Lovely, Still, a 2008 film starring Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau, I poked around on the Web and found the widest possible range of opinons — from a contemptible piece of trash to a work of genius. Put me down as confused, which I guess is somewhere between the extremes. This movie, directed and written, in part, by Nicholas Facker, concerns elderly Robert Malone (Landau), who appears as a solitary man who lives alone and works at a nearby supermarket — near enough that he has been walking to work since he crashed his car into his garage door.


During his lunch breaks at the market, Robert passes the time making pencil drawings that reveal a high level of skill that seems out of place in a man whose life is so drab and pointless. While he is drawing one day, he is approached by Mary (we are not told her last name), played by Burstyn. She introduces her self and tells him that she admires his drawing. When Robert returns home that evening, he finds the front door of his house ajar. Unaware that he didn’t close the door when he left for work, he cautiously enters the house to search for an intruder, and he finds one — Mary, who lives across the street with her daughter, Alex, played by Elizabeth Banks. As Mary tries to explain that she had seen the open door and wanted to make sure he was all right, the startled Robert screams at her to get out of his house.


When Robert calms down, however, he apologizes and the interchanges that follow end up with Robert accepting Mary’s invitation to take her to dinner the following night. Although Alex is wary of this, for reasons she does not state, Mary pursues the relationship which evolves into a romance, the first romance, Robert  tells her, he has ever had. Meanwhile, Robert seeks and receives advice on courtship from his boss, Mike (Adam Scott), who seems to be more than reasonably solicitous of this confused old man, even going shopping with Robert to pick out Christmas presents for Mary. This movie is swathed in Christmas lights and sentimental music, and early on we became uneasy about the fairy tale. Eventually, Mary’s behavior and demeanor signal that something is seriously amiss — that there’s something she isn’t telling us. Sure enough, in the last few scenes, we learn that nothing in the film, including the relationships among the major characters, is what it seemed to be, and that the truth is  as harshly real as the setup for it was cozily unreal. To complicate matters, we didn’t fully understand what had really happened and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the conclusion. As I poked around on the Web, I found that we were not alone. We speculated about what the writers might have been trying to convey, but we could find reasons to dismiss every theory we concocted.


That’s too bad, because in our view this film has a lot to recommend it: the musical choices, the photography, and particularly the exemplary performances by all four major players. The story, in spite of its obscure ending, also effectively calls attention to the loneliness of people whom we encounter in everyday life and to the possible consequences of old age.

So we liked it as far as we could, but we’re confused. Perhaps someone else will watch Lovely, Still and open our eyes.