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Review: Made in Italy

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Liam Neeson is a bohemian artist who joins his estranged adult son in returning to the Tuscan villa bequeathed to them.

Intending to make it ready for sale, they have to decide if loss and grief stands in the way of their future.

My movie-going lately is mostly influenced by excitement at seeing stories on the silver screen. Through in a 90-minute trip to Tuscany and I’m there. That sounds like faint praise for the film but, even though it doesn’t quite reach cinematic heights, this is a gentle outing that Liam Neeson’s talents raise above the cliched.

He is completely believable as Robert, a charismatic artist who still mourns the death of his wife 20-years earlier. His artistic output has been affected by her death even though he isn’t short on bed partners. He has locked away the everyday memories of their life in the villa in one small room and never speaks of her to his increasingly frustrated and fed up son, Jack.

Joining him is Neeson’s own son, Micheál Richardson, who has a few films under his belt but is still finding his own abilities. Coming from the revered Redgrave-Richardson-Neeson family there are certainly doors open to him but also expectations that must be daunting.

He is a bit bland in this role, particularly in the romance with local chef and restauranteur Natalia, that is a bit of a by-the-numbers rom-com. That storyline isn’t the main purpose of the film though and Richardson does hold his own in a deeply felt scene where he and his father talk about his mother’s death for the first time. This scene is the powerful and heart-wrenching highlight of the film.

They sit together on the floor, and the similarity of their postures is striking. Watching it unfold you can’t help but think of their own family tragedy, as Neeson’s wife and Richardson’s mother Natasha Richardson died in 2009 when Richardson was a teenager (he legally changed his name from Neeson to Richardson in 2018 to honour her memory). Yet it never feels exploitative or invasive.

This is writer-director James D’Arcy’s first turn behind the camera, and he brings a light touch. He is best known to Marvel’s Agent Carter fans as Edwin Jervis, and I’m interested to see what else he turns his hand to.

He has wisely brought on British theatrical stalwart Lindsay Duncan, who is an absolute delight as Kate, the real estate agent tasked with trying to sell the ramshackle property.  Unimpressed with Robert’s considerable charm, she unflinchingly tells it like it is, yet still always helps, whether it’s finding local a local tradesman to remove a weasel in the bathroom (“that’s not a euphemism,” Neeson tells his son) or even keeping away boorish Brits with more money than manners or taste.

I mentioned a by-the-numbers romcom squeezed in, and it’s…fine, just never that exciting. Two pretty young people are attracted to each other and the obstacles in their way seem to only be there for plot purposes. Kudos though to James D’Arcy for not creating a love triangle with Liam Neeson. There’s one scene where I feared it was heading that way, but it neatly executed a self-deprecating swerve.

Sure, I know who I’d pick out of the father and son, and it’s that Irish lilt all the way for me, but I was glad the film didn’t go down that route.

Made in Italy isn’t up there with my favourite ‘lives changed forever by an Italian adventure’ films (my top three are Roman Holiday, Enchanted April and Room With A View, and there are so many more to choose from) but it is a sweet and hopeful film with gorgeous scenery. And honestly, that’s enough to satisfy me for now.

Made in Italy is showing in cinemas around Canberra.

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