Yet another great movie from the enigmatic director Michael Winterbottom, Genova deals with the sensitive issue of family ties, emotions and how bereavement can cause a family to struggle through the pain and try to live life normally once again. As Winterbottom is known to tackle different concepts in his films, here he chooses to portray a family who has just lost a member and is trying to overcome the sorrow by moving to another city. The city plays an equally important role in their quest as the past must be put aside and life must move on.
A British university professor based in Chicago, Joe (Colin Firth) accepts the offer to teach at an Italian university only to get his daughters and himself away from the recent tragedy that had struck them with great remorse. They have been left emotionally distraught by the death of the girls’ mother (Hope Davis) in a tragic car accident, which unfortunately happens when Mary, the younger daughter playfully covers her mother’s eyes while she is driving, not realizing the consequences of her act and the result as we all see in the opening scene is the death of the mother.
Five months from the incident, Joe has decided that moving to another city might help reduce their pain and so they migrate to Genova, a city in Italy that basks in its wonderful historical past, but its narrow alleyways are as turbulent as the lives of our characters in the film. With the help of an old colleague, Barbara (Catherine Keener) from Harvard, Joe settles in Genova with his two daughters, 16 year old Kelly (Willa Holland) and 10 year old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine). The three in their own way look for solace although the memories of the mother are still fresh in their minds.
The quiet and reserved Joe is teaching during the day and although he makes friends, he keeps his distance. He balances work and at the same time tries to be a good father to his girls. He gets the girls enrolled for piano classes. Fed up of having to baby-sit her little sister, the attractive Kelly takes interest in the young boys of the city and involves herself in mild flirtations often leaving little Mary alone to fend for herself. Left to herself, Mary begins to hallucinate about her mother, imagining her walking the streets of the city and burdened by the guilt that she was the cause of her death, Mary finds herself chasing her asking for forgiveness.
The little girl is traumatized and awakens in the middle of the night screaming and wailing at the top of her voice. Although a newcomer, Perla Haney-Jardine has acted her role to par excellence and her performance is a pleasure to watch. Being a father, Joe tries his best to give his daughters all the attention that he can and with his own methods tries to tackle situations, but they are not enough to soothe matters. He can see that Kelly is getting out of hand, has become defiant and does not agree to the rules that he has laid down and consistently disobeys his orders.
Barbara is sympathetic towards Mary and uneasy though it is, she finds herself getting more and more involved with the family’s tribulations. The story is compelling and we begin to empathize with the characters. The city at the same time is also highlighted, making it a part and parcel of the film as we see it involved with the family’s bereavement. Although, Genova is not as hard hitting as the other films directed by Winterbottom, it does bring its point across and you find yourself completely involved with the film.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Colin Firth, Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Perla Haney-Jardine, Demetri Goritsas, Monica Bennati, Dante Ciari, Gherardo Crucitti, Alessandro Giuggioli, Kyle Griffin, Willa Holland, Margherita Romeo
Language: Italian, English
Awards: San Sebastián International Film Festival, Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival