|The Observer (Mar
29, 2009, by Philip French)
You never know what Michael Winterbottom will do next. Following, among other things, a version of Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge as a western, a hardcore love story, a dystopian SF thriller and two movies involving terrorism, he has now made a tender and touching film about a widowed university lecturer (Colin Firth) and his daughters (16 and 10) leaving Chicago to spend a year in Genoa.
They're recovering in the Italian sun from the death of a much-loved wife and mother in a car crash in the wintry Midwest. He's there to teach a course on what might have been advertised as "Vague Humanistic Studies" attended largely by alluring graduate students, the movie's only truly false note. Genoa, with its gorgeous beaches, bustling port, sinister old town, handsome modern buildings and baroque churches, is a suitably therapeutic setting. In mood and attention to detail, the film brings Eric Rohmer to mind. And the younger daughter's visions of her mother, the labyrinthine alleyways and the lighting of candles in dark churches inevitably recall Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now.
|The Sunday Times
(Mar 29, 2009, by Peter Whitttle) - 1 out of 5 stars
In this drama directed by Michael Winterbottom, a father (Colin Firth) and his two daughters move to Genoa to try to recover after the death of the mother in a car accident. So far, so Don’t Look Now, but after about two-thirds of the movie, the realisation dawns that despite the appearance of what might be a ghost, and some examples of rather dangerous Italian driving, that is going to be more or less it in terms of plot. Winterbottom employs a naturalistic style that, in its self-conscious flatness, becomes an affectation, and the complete, wanton lack of any kind of drama is frustrating. There is also no reason whatsoever for it to be set in Genoa, although I imagine it was lovely filming there.
(March 27, 2009, by Alistair Harkness)
Echoes of Nic Roeg's classic freak-out Don't Look Now abound in Michael Winterbottom's latest—an eerie, elliptical tale of loss and bereavement revolving around an Anglo-American family who relocate from Chicago to Genoa in Italy to help get over a devastating loss.
From the plot's set-up and thematic concerns, to the film's imposing use of the titular Italian city's twisting alleyways, Winterbottom pays deliberate homage, yet his gift for naturalism goes beyond Roeg's as he strips away all but the most ambiguous of spectral elements to tell a ghost story free from artifice, one that relies on very few of the usual genre tropes to ratchet up very real feelings of dread. Instead these emerge naturally from the nuanced interplay between Colin Firth's buttoned-down college professor and his daughters: hormonally charged 16-year-old Kelly (Willa Holland) and her guilt-ridden, still-traumatised little sister, Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine), whose own night terrors concerning the road accident that killed their mother (Hope Davis) six months earlier begin to manifest themselves in her increasingly unpredictable behaviour. Beautifully acted and rich in atmosphere, what follows is an intriguing, deeply felt, intelligent exploration of the way family members can find their way back to one another after tragedy threatens to push them apart.
|The Telegraph (Mar
27, 2009, by Jenny McCartney)
The British director Michael Winterbottom has a singular talent for catching the moment, and pitching it coolly back to his audience in an edgily natural style. In Genova, however, starring Colin Firth as Joe, the recently widowed father of two girls, the narrative itself loses its way even as the director's technique remains artlessly artful. The plot, from a script by Winterbottom and Laurence Coriat, begins with a painfully dramatic moment: the death of Joe's wife in a car crash. Thereafter, however, the action is laced with a persistent suggestion of unease that fails to whip up into the necessary peaks of tension.
Firth is cast as a man unexpectedly battered by fate, with the pouchiness of grieving middle-age wrapped around his leading-man features. Joe, a university lecturer, moves his two daughters—Mary and Kelly—to Genova where he attempts to take stock of the tragedy during a year's teaching. We are duly assured of Joe's intellectual brilliance, but in truth his classes seem rather humdrum affairs, full of excitable fifth-form discussions on the nature of Italian social conformity.
The youngest daughter, Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine, who provides the most painful and compelling performance of the film) is having persistent visions of her late mother. The older one, Kelly (the ferociously photogenic Willa Holland) is making sexual hay with the local youths. Joe, too, is being pursued by an American colleague, Barbara (Catherine Keener), and a slightly younger, sexier Italian student. The lightness of Italy—its beaches and lip-smacking hedonism—is contrasted with the dark threat that lurks like the flickering smells from bad drains in Genova's shadowy mess of alleyways. There are inevitable echoes of Nicolas Roeg's film Don't Look Now (1973), which dredged the murkiness of Venice to such haunting effect. But while that film expertly built to a scream, this one fades to a shrug.
Part of the trouble is that the mother's ghost is badly underwritten. She simply turns up, with an enigmatic and faintly creepy smile, and fails to make her intentions in the least clear. Thus we never know quite what Mary is dealing with, a benign guardian or a siren of doom, and with that a great chunk of central meaning is abandoned. Somewhere amid the delicately depicted nuances, which offer a tangible but limited enjoyment, I simply found that I had stopped caring.
27, 2009, by Jack Foley)
Colin Firth doesn’t take too many risks with the roles he takes, but when he does the results often make for more interesting film experiences (think Trauma or Where The Truth Lies). Genova once again finds the actor operating outside of his comfort zone as a recently widowed father struggling to look after his family and get on with his life.
It’s an intimate family tale and ethereal ghost story directed by Michael Winterbottom that’s unexpectedly moving and quietly gripping. The plot is simple and relatively slow-paced....
By employing the same documentary style that has become his trademark, Winterbottom brings an intimacy and authenticity to the ensuing drama that’s both painfully raw and heartbreakingly intense. The friction that exists between Joe’s two daughters is expertly under-played, while feelings of guilt and regret are cleverly left to bubble underneath the surface. The supernatural element is also well-handled, creating a sense of discomfort that works far better than any impromptu shocks or bumps in the dark.
Firth, for his part, is quietly affecting as the family patriarch, struggling to suppress his emotions while beginning a new life in a vibrant European city and remain strong for his children. It’s a masterful performance that suggests he should take risks more often.
While Holland is a star in the making, displaying just the right amount of sexual allure to reward Winterbottom’s lingering camera. Haney-Jardine, meanwhile, nails the role of the youngest, guilt-ravaged daughter and never over-plays the emotions involved, or drifts into precosciousness.
All the performances feel natural and help to contribute to the film’s poignant conclusion, which is guaranteed to stay with you for some time afterwards.
Genova is therefore strongly recommended for fans of intelligent, involving cinema, as well as for anyone who has previously written off Firth as a one-trick pony.
|Guardian (Mar 27,
2009, by Peter Bradshaw) - 2 out of 5 stars
Viewing Michael Winterbottom's supernatural family drama Genova for a second time—I saw it first at the San Sebastian festival last year—is an intriguing but frustrating re-encounter. It is impossible not to admire the fluency and intelligence of Winterbottom's film-making, and his prolific output. Yet Genova is a disappointment, more like a tentative sketch for a movie than the actual finished product.
When Marianne (Hope Davis) dies in a car crash, tragically caused by one of her kids clowning around in the back seat, her widower Joe (Colin Firth) decides on a clean break and takes his two daughters Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Kelly (Willa Holland) away to Genova, in Italy, for the summer—Kelly has a romance with a local boy and Mary is plagued by visions of her dead mother, which she discloses to her father partly in the time-honoured scary-movie fashion of doing creepy kiddy drawings.
Genova doesn't know if it's going to be a ghost story or teen drama: somewhere between Don't Look Now and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. It always looks great, and moves with confidence and attack, but the two disappearance crises are contrived and repetitive. Genova is a labyrinthine city in which visitors can lose their way: Winterbottom appears to have mislaid his.
(Mar 27, 2009, by Anthony Quinn) - 1 out of 5 stars
There's an awful lot of bereavement in cinema this week. In Michael Winterbottom's latest, Colin Firth plays a US-based academic who loses his wife in a car accident and takes his two daughters to Genoa, where he hopes to heal their grieving spirits.
Winterbottom, forswearing a plot, attempts to get by on atmosphere alone, and gives the narrow, shadowy streets of the ancient town a supporting part. For the rest it's a loosely improvised meander through Italy's bella vita—sunbathing, eating, romancing— with a sideline on Firth's younger daughter's visions of her dead mother. It is absolutely inconsequential, and (in time) mildly annoying. I suspect the director was aiming for a sun-blessed version of Don't Look Now, but his ghost story conjures neither suspense nor intrigue.
|The Telegraph (Mar
26, 2009, by Tim Robey) - 3 stars
Not quite a misstep for Michael Winterbottom, this study in grief has a constricted, somewhat calculated feel—it’s missing the torn-from-the-headlines urgency of his best work. Colin Firth is the bereaved dad who takes his two young daughters to Italy, where one of them is visited by her dead mum (Hope Davis) and Genova’s sloping alleyways start to exert a Don’t Look Now-style abstract menace. All of this is well-performed, especially by the bawling and traumatised Perla Haney-Jardine, while few but the prickly, alert Catherine Keener could have done this much with the weirdly menial role of Firth’s academic colleague. It has its moments—but we sense the air of an exercise, not a flesh-and-blood drama.
|Time Out London
(Mar 26, 2009, by Dave Calhoun) - 4 out of 6 stars
Grief and tears, sun and sex: Michael Winterbottom rides his globe-trotting indie charabanc into the Italian city of Genova to tell a moving story of loss and displacement that’s light on its feet and heavy with emotion.
Winterbottom fires the film’s ignition in its tense opening scenes: a young American mother (Hope Davis) is driving in winter when she suffers an accident which kills her. Left behind are husband Joe (Colin Firth, below) and two girls, 16-year-old Kelly (Willa Holland) and ten-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine). Once the funeral and five months have passed, the family opt to move to Italy, where Joe will teach at the same university as Barbara (Catherine Keener), an old friend from years back. New country, new city, new start—as announced by the trumpeting sound over the opening credits of Georges Delerue’s ‘Grand Choral’ and the sight of dazzling aerial shots of Genova: Truffaut meets Google Earth.
The city in the searing heat of summer becomes a backdrop for an energetic examination of grief and renewal as each of the trio negotiates a new life with the memory of the old one fresh in the mind. We dash about the city, sucking in every alley and remote corner. Education touches them all: a sexual one for Kelly, whose hormones go loopy at the sight of Mediterranean boys, piano lessons for both girls and open discussions between Joe and his students—perhaps the film’s weakest episodes—about the Italian national character (‘Has the euro had any impact on a sense of Italian identity?’ he asks. Thankfully, Winterbottom doesn’t linger too long here.)
Three strong performances, with Firth as a sensitive lynchpin, reinforce the tenderness of the father-daughter relationship. But Winterbottom is also interested in what keeps us apart and he explores those areas even a loving parent can’t reach: young Mary screams out at night and sees her dead mother in windows and on the streets, while Kelly finds comfort in a boyfriend. Her blossoming sexuality puts a similar distance between her and her younger sister. Meanwhile, Joe puts up his own barriers: he’ll only let Barbara and a young student admirer so close before clamming up and raising his defences.
Laurence Coriat, the director’s co-writer on this film, also scripted ‘Wonderland’ and again their work together has produced a film in which the city’s texture and the emotions of its characters are at one. Comparisons have been made with ‘Don’t Look Now’, but that’s a bit misleading: this isn’t a supernatural story, even if Mary does ‘see’ her mother. Yet what ‘Genova’ does share with Nic Roeg’s film is an awareness of how claustrophobic—and liberating—it can be to mix a strange city with devastating loss. It’s at once a deeply sad film and a deeply truthful and optimistic one.
|The Sun (Mar 27,
2009, by The Sneak) - 4 out of 5 stars
It’s familiar material for Colin Firth in this family melodrama.
Here we have loss (see And When Did You Last See Your Father?), the perils of single parenthood (see Then She Found Me) and romantic indecision (see just about everything else).
But that practice combined with a director (Michael Winterbottom) who knows how to get natural performances from his stars, has produced one of Firth’s finest films yet.
The actor plays Joe, who moves his children Kelly, 16, and ten-year-old Mary, to the Italian city of Genova after their mum dies in a car accident.
Mary deals with the bereavement through religion and Kelly opts for hedonism.
Meanwhile, Joe finds himself pursued by two women. Firth expresses Joe’s turmoil via his mannerisms rather than words and Perla Haney- Jardine is incredible as Mary.
Most of the credit, though, has to go to Winterbottom for the way he uses Genova’s menacing alleys and chaotic traffic to create tension.
(Mar 26, 2009, by Derek Malcolm) - 4 out of 5 stars
Sometimes the slightest storyline produces more truth than the strongest plotting. Not a lot happens in Michael Winterbottom’s family drama but he skilfully provides what detail there is and leaves the viewer to supply the rest.
Colin Firth plays Joe, an English academic who has lost his much-loved American wife (Hope Davis) in a car accident. He seeks a fresh start by moving with his two daughters, aged 10 and 16, to Genova in Italy and taking up a post at the university.
The elder daughter (Willa Holland) begins to explore her sexuality with willing Italian boys, while the younger (Perla Haney-Jardine) is traumatised by the belief that she caused the accident and is certain she can still speak to her mother. Joe just about copes with the kids, helped out by an old friend (Catherine Keener) and his students, who respond well to him.
Winterbottom looks at Genova with the same sort of imaginative eye that Nic Roeg looked at Venice in Don’t Look Now, only without the sex. There’s nothing flashy, only the often present feeling that the change of lifestyle could provoke disaster.
Whether it is the elder sister weaving her way through the traffic on her Italian boyfriend’s scooter or the younger girl lighting a candle for her mother at church and wandering off without telling her father, there is a palpable sense that something awful might happen.
At the end of the film when nothing terrible has transpired, there is a sense that it is somehow incomplete. But this is a much more intimately reflective drama than Winterbottom usually supplies, and it tells us a lot about loss in a dozen small ways. The cast, particularly the children, do the director proud.
|The Times (Mar
26, 2009, by James Christopher) - 2 out of 5 stars
Michael Winterbottom’s ghost story Genova is a baffling remake of Nic Roeg’s 1973 masterpiece Don’t Look Now. Colin Firth uproots his two young daughters from Chicago to Genoa when a game of close-your-eyes-and-guess-the-colour-of-the-next-car-Mum kills his wife (Hope Davis) in a motorway pile-up. A teaching post in medieval Genoa has all the Roeg distractions a grieving family could possibly want: ancient churches, narrow sidestreets and menacing strangers.
But Winterbottom’s film has no decent supernatural glue. Genova is stuck together by simmering gripes. Firth revels too eagerly in his new job teaching impressionable Italian girls. His two daughters cultivate their own secrets. 16-year-old sex-pot, Kelly (Willa Holland), likes midnight romps with boys on mopeds, while ten-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) likes running off with her mother’s ghost. Winterbottom tries to make a modern and meaningful parable. He fails quite miserably.
(Mar 25, 2009, by Nigel Andrews)
Join up the dots in Michael Winterbottom’s new film and you get the outline of a shaggy dog. But if Genova meanders, it has an ensorcelling, even zodiacal charm. Britain’s most unguessable director (Jude, A Cock and Bull Story, Road to Guantánamo) flings a luminous theme-and-variations on Don’t Look Now—that Venice-set tale of a bereavement-haunted family—against a different Italian backdrop. Genoa is the new home for Colin Firth and his two daughters, numbed by the death of wife/mother Hope Davis in a car crash. Older daughter Kelly (Willa Holland) is solaced by the stirrings of first love, or first sex. Younger Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine), guilty at the part she may have played in the crash, enlists the help of Genoa’s time-warped alleys in outwitting her nightmares. Dad juggles a teaching job with the demands of gently repudiating an expat US friend (Catherine Keener) ready to move in on his heart.
Nothing exactly “happens”. There are fleeting disappearances, enigmatic scares, perhaps a ghost. The lines of family connection fizzle, sporadically, like a faulty telephone cable. This is a tale of skewed certainties, imaged in the archaic labyrinths of a skewed city. The climax is masterly—a spaghetti montage of frustrated trysts and converging dangers in a busy city centre—not least because even this scene cheats us of absolute finality. For isn’t the greatest paradox of death, or its greatest consolation, that it always prompts the remark “Life goes on”?
|The Herald (Mar
25, 2009 by Alison Rowat) - 2 stars
Taking a cue from its Italian setting, Michael Winterbottom's drama oozes good taste and refinement, but ends up flat and rather dull in consequence. Joe (Colin Firth) has left Chicago with his two daughters, Kelly, 16, and Mary, 10, after a car accident in which their mother was killed.
While the broken family settle in quickly to their new home, events of the past overshadow the present.
Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, A Mighty Heart) gives a solid, moving account of the grieving process.
The performances of the children, Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine, are remarkable, while Firth, as ever, wears his suffering gracefully, his reserved Englishman act once again pressed into play.
It should be intensely involving material, but despite several poignant moments, there's a chill to the piece which keeps the viewer strictly on the outside, looking in. While that might be Winterbottom's message—that no one can truly understand another person's grief—he takes the idea too far.
|Total Film (Mar 8,
2009, by Neil Smith) - 3 out of 5 stars
An ancient Italian city, a mourning parent, a ghostly, potentially threatening presence—don’t look now, but there appears to be a Roeg element at work in the latest effort from Michael Winterbottom.
Having tackled fact (A Mighty Heart, The Road To Guantanamo), fiction (Jude, Code 46) and various stages in between (24 Hour Party People, A Cock & Bull Story), has the prolific Brit auteur now added supernatural thriller to his lengthy list of genre experiments?
Yes and no. You can’t miss the supernatural in this atmospheric story of a family haunted by the loss of one of its members. There aren’t many thrills, though, in a film that spends so long setting up its spooky scenario its ending almost feels like an afterthought.
After losing his wife Marianne (Hope Davis) in a car accident, university lecturer Joe (Colin Firth) carts their two daughters off to Genova in the belief a change of scene will help them deal with their grief. Slutty 16-year-old Kelly (Willa Holland) soon falls in with some local boys who show her the sights—and much else besides—from the back of their Vespas. Having played a part in her mother’s death, meanwhile, 10-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine from Kill Bill: Vol. 2) becomes convinced she is receiving visitations from beyond the grave.
Shot in the director’s normal hand-held style, with shadows and silences that steep the picture-postcard scenery in unsettling menace, Genova proves both quietly affecting and annoyingly insubstantial.
Winterbottom maintains tension by keeping the true nature of Davis’ ethereal cameos a provocative mystery. By the end, though, you’re yearning for a little clarity, Firth’s typically unemotive performance becoming a telling reflection of the film’s overall reluctance to spill its narrative beans.
Verdict: After his playful turn in Mamma Mia!, Firth cuts an altogether more sombre figure in this thoughtful study of bereavement. With no shock twist or homicidal dwarf up its sleeve, though, Winterbottom’s film seems a little self-defeating.
|Empire (by Angie
Arrigo) - 3 out of 5 stars
Like Amélie, don’t you hate it when people in movies don’t watch the road when they’re driving? Marianne (Hope Davis) is tootling along playing a silly game with her daughters when it gets out of hand and, totally unsurprisingly, ends in a fatal accident. Some months later, Marianne’s numbed husband, Joe (Colin Firth), is offered a position at the university in Genova by old pal Barbara (Catherine Keener).
The attractions of the medieval Italian city, lively students and sunny beaches are evident, and explorations of its by-ways nicely avoid the familiar landmarks we would have been spotting if this had been called Venezia or Roma. Dramatic clichés are not so completely eluded. The family embrace la vita Genovese easily enough. A little too easily, perhaps, in the 16 year-old’s (Willa Holland) case, since she is catnip for the beach-boy set with their scooters and practised chat-up lines. She is, naturally, seething with resentments, which pretty Holland, an alumna of The OC, manages to make more sympathetic than not.
Just as naturally the younger child (Perla Haney-Jardine) gets literally and figuratively lost, although the appearances of her mother’s ghost are a tad unsettling. But Dad is a classic Brit, so he internalises everything and just hopes everyone will get through it. You can smell a crisis of some sort cooking, to draw them back together.
Michael Winterbottom is one of the foremost exponents of the documentary-drama style, and he makes good use of his technique in this intensely intimate piece, while the cast achieve a degree of realism. And we love the way cinematographer Marcel Zyskind captures the city whizzing past from the vantage point of a scooter. But these people still seem detached, sketchy (we don’t even know what Joe is a professor of), and too many incidents seem routine. (Joe, for example, needs little Mary’s precociously accomplished, troubling drawings in order to twig she has unresolved issues and is haunted by her mother—since her shrieks in the night haven’t clued him up.) Tolstoy said each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This family, not so much.
Verdict: As solid as you'd look for from Winterbottom and this cast, but the touches of supernatural thriller in an otherwise rather conventional coming-to-terms-with-bereavement drama aren?t entirely convincing.
|The Telegraph (Oct
24, 2008, by David Gritten) - 3 out of 5 stars
British director Michael Winterbottom's new film Genova once again underscores his love of travel and of shooting in visually striking foreign locations. For most of its length it's a treat.
In this affecting story of a family coping with grief, Colin Firth plays Joe, an English-born father in Chicago whose wife is killed in a car accident. He uproots his reluctant daughters, who were injured in the crash, to Italy, where he takes a job for a year teaching in Genova.
This voyage of discovery offers the chance for a new start. But elder daughter Kelly (Willa Holland) has just entered a phase of pouty teenage rebellion, while Mary, 10, delicately played by Perla Haney-Jardine, still has nightmares about her mother (Hope Davis), whose ghost regularly appears to her.
The medieval city, with its dark, narrow, labyrinthine alleyways, assumes the function of a fairy-tale forest: an often scary place in which to negotiate one's fears. (Comparisons with the Venice of Don't Look Now are unavoidable.) Winterbottom, cutting fast and furiously, conveys all this with panache. He elicits finely calibrated work from Firth as a protective, sweet-natured father.
This subtle, nuanced story never required a slam-bang climax—but near the end it just stops dead in its tracks, as if everyone concerned had simply run out of ideas. A pity.
|The Times (Oct 23,
2008, by Wendy Ide) - 2 out of 5 stars
Prolific, prodigiously talented but not consistent, the British director Michael Winterbottom returns to The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival with his latest picture, an enigmatic but ultimately underpowered study of bereavement set in Genoa.
The film opens with an effective pretitle sequence set in a family car. A mother (Hope Davis) and her two daughters, the teenaged Kelly and the younger Mary, are playing a guessing game during a long journey. It’s a seemingly innocent sequence but the snow on the road and Winterbottom’s clever sound design means that the threat of tragedy looms like a juggernaut in the rear view mirror. When the crash comes, it may feel inevitable but it’s no less devastating.
The story rolls forward by several months. Colin Firth plays Joe, the widowed father struggling to fill the role of both parents to the two girls while grappling with his own grief. Mary is haunted by nightmares that leave her sobbing for her mother. Kelly is plugged into an iPod, self-contained within her own newly discovered beauty. When Joe is offered a teaching position at Genoa University, he takes it, hoping that a change of scenery might help the family to come to terms with their loss.
Shot with a nervy hand-held camera (by Winterbottom’s regular collaborator Marcel Zyskind), the city is immediately fascinating. The family find themselves exploring a maze of winding alleyways—a location choice that’s presumably a deliberate homage to Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. The knowing glances of the locals—a collection of twisted crones, blowsy hookers, shifty rat-like men—contribute to an atmosphere that prickles with foreboding.
While the shared grief binds the father and his daughters together, the city conspires to force them apart, both physically—the winding alleys are a maze that separates one from another—and mentally. Joe concentrates on his work, Kelly flits around the city with boys on Vespas, and Mary begins to see her mother everywhere. It’s never clear whether she is a benign spirit or a figment of the child’s imagination.
This is, first and foremost, an atmosphere piece and as such it’s initially successful. The problem is that having imbued the city with inchoate dangers at every turn the story fails to deliver a satisfactory payoff. To avoid sentimentality and melodrama in a film about bereavement is admirable; to avoid drama altogether seems self-defeating. There is one genuine moment of suspense when Mary disappears during a family trip—but the resolution is maddeningly anticlimactic. Friction grows between Joe and his older daughter but rather than explode into confrontation the tension fizzles out. It all feels a little half-hearted.
|Shadows on the Wall
(Oct 21, 2008, by Rich Cline) - 4 out of 5 stars
There's a powerful emotional undertone to this film that overcomes its slightly thin structure and give us plenty to chew on, especially if we've experienced some sort of personal tragedy.
After his wife (Davis) dies in a car accident, Joe (Firth) accepts a teaching job in Genova, Italy, to start with a fresh slate, and moves from Chicago with his two daughters. Sullen teen Kelly (Holland) detaches herself from them and starts seeing boys, going to parties and generally wearing herself out, while haunted pre-teen Mary (Haney-Jardine) clings to her mother's memory. Joe's university friend Barbara (Keener) helps them settle in, and notices some problems Joe can't see. Is another tragedy coming to this devastated family?
Winterbottom is inverting the themes and structure of Nicholas Roeg's classic Don't Look Now, which was set in rival city Venice with a parent seeking the ghost of a child, instead of the other way round. This film certainly plays with similarly haunting imagery, a growing sense of danger and a fatalistic approach in which tragedy is something we must live with every day. This family has experienced something truly horrific, forever altering how they interact with each other and with themselves.
Firth is superb as usual, hovering around the edges because this really isn't his story, although there's plenty of history with Barbara, plus a spark of interest with a student (Romeo). The film focuses on the girls, and Holland and Haney-Jardine bring a real sense of pain and honesty to their roles. Despite their anguish, these are life-loving girls who take to the Italian culture like naturals. They are especially good on screen together, showing a strikingly believable balance of love, resentment and misunderstanding.
And this balance is what the film is about, despite the hints that something nasty is coming. And this is clearly what Winterbottom is digging into with his gritty, low-fi approach, mimicking his work on A Mighty Heart with hand-held, murky video that catches the beauty of the location but keeps the focus on the people rather than the settings. In the end, it may feel like a somewhat weightless slice-of-life drama, but there's a lot of substance in here if you look for it.
|Variety (Sept 10,
2008, by Rob Nelson)
Serially chameleonic Brit auteur Michael Winterbottom continues his sojourning ways with "Genova," even as its tale of familial loss and grief seems a deliberate extension of—and chance to improve upon—the director's "A Mighty Heart." Here, the titular Italian town shares top billing with Colin Firth as a bereaved husband, with two highly affecting young actresses as his resilient daughters, the smaller of whom periodically sees Mom (Hope Davis) as a ghost. Pic's strengths as a '50s Euro-style meller paradoxically make "Genova" a somewhat iffy proposition for Stateside release.
Co-written by Winterbottom and his "Wonderland" collaborator Laurence Coriat, the beautifully lensed film opens with the auto-accident death of Marianne (Davis), steering through snowy Illinois terrain with kids Kelly (Willa Holland) and Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) in tow and Chopin on the soundtrack. Familiarity of the story and ostensible ease of heartstring pulls are undercut early with a pair of harrowing scenes set in the immediate aftermath.
Five months later, English widower Joe (Firth), stoic and capable to the point of seeming almost relieved to be a single parent, brings the kids along to his yearlong university teaching gig in Genova, memorably described in the dialogue as having once been the world's richest city.
Bulk of the pic, which feels long at a mere 93 minutes, is set during summer, when the visiting prof's potential love interests include flirtatious, white-hot student Rosa (Margherita Romeo) and the chilly Barbara (Catherine Keener, boldly and brilliantly unlikable), his former classmate (and possible g.f.) at Harvard.
Rebellious Kelly stays out late, riding drunkenly on the back of a fast boyfriend's scooter, while Mary begins to believe Mom's spectral visitations are intended to forgive the girl for having played a distracting variant of patty-cake just before the crash. Dad's dubious gift for emotional repression begins to fail him when Mary goes missing in the woods.
"Genova" conveys its strongest themes through insinuation, and modulates its shifting moods through Winterbottom's precisely calibrated DV processing. As the loose, episodic narrative occasionally strains patience, Kelly's omnipresent iPod enables periodic pop (and signifies the sad-eyed girl's escapist tendencies). Still, despite its contempo elements, the film carries faint intimations of Rossellini's masterful "Voyage to Italy," as the burdensome weight of the past, represented in the brick and mortar of old Italy itself, bears on family members vacationing under stress.
Among solid tech contributions, the counterintuitively fast-paced editing by Paul Monaghan and Winterbottom stands out, particularly in tense scenes at the film's start and finish. Intelligent young Haney-Jardine, already unforgettable as Beatrix Kiddo's daughter in "Kill Bill Vol. 2," delivers the pic's most indelible perf, impressively approximating Davis' voice by way of conveying both genetic influence and the kid's heartbreaking desire to keep Mom's spirit alive.
|Screen Daily (Sept
8, 2008, by Allan Hunter)
A family's struggles with loss, grief and guilt form the basis of a frustratingly insubstantial drama in Genova. Michael Winterbottom's latest effort is commendable for its refusal to indulge in easy sentimentality but the price for that is an elusive, low-key tale that keeps the viewer at arm's length. The audience for a Winterbottom film tends to be modest at the best of times but its hard to see who will be attracted by a story that is mildly intriguing without ever becoming compelling. Theatrical prospects look marginal.
Genova begins with a classic set-up for a tv-movie weepie. Mary-Ann (Hope Davis) and her daughters are driving along an icy road in the depth of winter. They play games and exude contentment signalling that tragedy is only a heartbeat away. Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) is the unwitting architect of an accident in which her mother dies. Five months later, her father Joe (Colin Firth) accepts a teaching job that will involve spending a year in Italy. Soon, Joe, Mary and her older sister Kelly (Willa Holland) are heading for a fresh start in Genova.
Thus far, the film remains reasonably promising. Winterbottom is then able to capture Genova as a city full of possibilities. Prowling the narrow, winding streets, dead ends and back alleys helps to create a sense of oppression and a mild degree of threat at what could be lurking around the next corner—although comparisons with Nicolas Roeg's use of Venice in Don't Look Now (1973) seem wildly overstated and unconvincing.
Winterbottom does create a viable sense of a family trying to live as if the dear-departed never existed. Mary-Ann is scarcely mentioned and each surviving member of the family clings to a separate life. Joe takes a shine to his new students. Kelly embraces la dolce vita and the Italian boys. Only Kelly actively keeps her mother's memory alive and is sustained in this strange new environment by frequent sightings of what we assume is her mother's ghost: a benign figure who offers smiling encouragement and words of forgiveness to her child.
Everything about Genova seems a little half-hearted. Winterbottom clearly wants to avoid having to state the obvious, but that leaves everything feeling underdeveloped and unimportant. The sense of menace on the streets of Genova is vague, the idea of conflict between Joe and the hedonistic Kelly simmers rather than explodes, romantic tensions between Joe and an old colleague (Catherine Keener) are hinted at rather than explored. Even when Mary disappears and is then discovered at a train station proves only a momentary raising of the stakes that is soon resolved.
Genova looks very beautiful and Winterbottom has secured persuasive performances from the cast, even if Hope Davis seems rather wasted in such a thankless role. Straying a little from his trademark role of the emotionally constipated Englishman, Firth is convincing as a caring father who can only try to cope and endure. Willa Holland plays the sulky teenage rebel to perfection and Perla Haney-Jardine is yet another child actor who seems a natural in front of the camera. Winterbottom's fondness for hand-held camerawork adds an immediacy to the proceedings and places the viewer at the heart of what little actually happens, but there is just not enough here to keep average audiences interested or to leave them feeling satisfied.
|The Hollywood Reporter
(Sept 6, 2008. by Michael Rechtshaffen)
Prolific English filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, whose recent output has run the gamut from "A Mighty Heart" to "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" to the x-rated "9 Songs," continues to explore his versatility with "Genova," a brittle psychological drama about a father and his two daughters coping with tragedy.
With Italy providing an evocative backdrop, not to mention an unsettling vibe that intentionally evokes Nicolas Roeg's 1973 classic, "Don't Look Now," the tautly-choreographed, effectively acted film has a generally downbeat tone.
A well-cast Colin Firth plays the ex-pat British father of two daughters living in Chicago who accepts a job teaching in Genoa for a year, hoping the distance will help them come to terms with the death of his wife and the girls' mother (Hope Davis), who was killed in a car crash.
But the change of scenery only serves to intensify the unspoken feelings of loss and guilt, prompting his daughters to act out in different ways.
While 16-year-old Kelly (Willa Holland) takes to running with boys she meets on the beach, 10-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) is convinced her mother's ghost has returned to comfort her.
Helping them to settle in, meanwhile, is Barbara (played by the always welcome Katherine Keener) a colleague at the university and an old friend of Firth's who clearly still harbors some unresolved feelings for him.
Winterbottom, who co-wrote the spare script with Laurence Coriat ("Wonderland"), keeps things uncomfortably off-kilter in the unfamiliar surroundings.
There's a chill of dread hanging over every narrow alleyway and a hint of potential menace in every passer-by and turning vehicle preventing both the characters and the audience from ever completely letting down their guard.
Effectively heightening that foreboding atmosphere is cinematographer and frequent Winterbottom collaborator Marcel Zyskind and composer Melissa Parmenter, whose string-laden score quietly accentuates the lingering grief.
Bottom Line: Fine performances bolster this moody, poignant portrait of guilt and forgiveness