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Made in Italy (2020)

CRUMBLIES…

There’s a thing old Jack wonders occasionally. When an experienced actor picks up a pen, finds the funding, agrees to direct, and jumps into the sunshine to make a story of love and loss between estranged father and sharply prosaic son, does this reveal more of his approach to acting or writing? Should we watch the work with an eye to affect, arguably the actor’s game, or cause, arguably the writer’s?

Soz – started pompous.

I took a break from the M.C.U. for a dash of sunshine and reality. To watch a promising tale of a lost father and and possibly angry son, awkwardly underpinned with the actors in question being real-life father and son. And tied together by the loss of a mother… which reality and fantasy also share.

But…this is a game of effect, not cause, and the film is thin as a result, albeit… Made in Italy.

So. Micheál Richardson is Jack, pained manager of an art gallery, speedily self-informing us of his oncoming divorce from the owner of said gallery. He’s being turfed out and begs time to find the cash to buy it. His film-father is actual-father Liam Neeson, playing Robert the painter. The two have half shares in a house in Italy – and a bloody nice (wreck of) one at that. Cue a half-explained mission to do it up, sell it, and buy the gallery. Which son neglects to fully tell father. Or something.

Do you care yet? The two were in the car, straining for joy in awkward dialogue, pulling up outside the place, then inside it and creeping through insane amounts of dust and debris before old Jack realised he didn’t. And why…? They don’t feel like father and son (Neeson has the charisma brakes on; Richardson talks pained rather than feels it), the dialogue doesn’t feel like how people talk (this is before it goes full-on self-pity-speeches from every single person)…, and Italy is too gorgeous to be this kind of miserable.

Anyway, they get to work. Lindsay Duncan pops by as a dry estate agent with a sharp fringe. She is a tight-arse for the majority of the film, character gelling with no-one, and there to snark at the crappiness of the place and the bludgeoning horror of the wall Robert painted blood red when his wife died. Probably.

Then there’s Valeria Bilello as Natalie. Richardson pops out for some food and pratfalls through the menu and tables of a restaurant. Luckily, the owner – single, chef, stunning – comes into focus and feeds him a glorious meal. It’s a relationship born of weird: comedy without build up, get-to-know-you dialogue shot from the other side of the room, and a script that asks Bilello to laugh uproariously at things that aren’t. Several times. She gets her own self-pity speech at one point – the inexplicable loss of custody of her kid – but it’s also an empty, out-of-the-blue moment of please-like-me-sadness. Perhaps her random laughter scared the judge.

And then there’s the father-son relationship, empty and prosaic as the boys brush, dust, paint and aim for comedic bickering. Nothing stirred in old Jack’s heart. Caricatures visit the house as they get it to unsellably gorgeous and – nope, still nothing.

Richardson gets brittle with drink and has a go at his Dad for…um… not talking about his dead mum and making him go to boarding school and not grieving together. Or something. Anyway, they have guests, so Robert avoids the moment. Just as well, I was still reeling from being told not shown…

And then Richardson ambles round the other buildings and happens upon a dust-free room with all his emotions in it. I bet Psycho Selina it’d be a trunk, but, nope, it was a whole room. She cackled like an Italian chef.

Gah!

The film, perhaps the script, is all effect and unearned moments from the start. It flips between forced comedy (there’s a weasel in a cupboard…it brings out the boys’ cowardice) and empty emotion or plot-friendly avoidance of moments (don’t paint over my painting of blood red paint because…walking away now)…

Old Jack here feels awful for not liking this film. Written and directed by an actor, James D’Arcy, that brings me to where I started. Actors need writers. Directors need writers. And by writers I mean well-lived, old-souls who structure and restructure their work until every beat of a story is built, earned, and deserved; it drives concern and tension for the characters, fascination in the events, dissection and challenge to the plot. And, you’d hope, some kind of satisfaction or empathy for the pain described on screen. I want to feel why you are sobbing, not coldly watch it. I want to know where your tears come from and sense that in the plot. And to worry you’ll never be fixed. At a guess. I’m just an old fart waiting to die.

As it is, Made in Italy is the uninvolving tale of a charismatic dad and a posh lad, both too clipped to discuss the obvious, and with no real impetus to do so. Still, it’s sunny and the age-appropriate single women in town happen by…

Give it a go? If you like Neeson, his lad, Italy, or live in hope.

It’ll make you sigh the same way Love Is All You Need (2012) doesn’t.

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