Michael Winterbottom’s career in film and television has been a real rollercoaster of expectations. As a filmmaker, Winterbottom takes his audience to places they least expect, often subverting expectations and genre tropes. His 2008 film, Genova is a film which does this in many ways, blindsiding viewers with its heart and resonance along the way.
Lecturer Joe (Colin Firth) relocates to the Italian city of Genova with his two daughters Kelly and Mary (Willa Holland Perla Haney-Jardine) following the death of his wife. As Joe tries to rebuild his life, Mary begins to see her dead mother in the city streets while older sister Kelly seeks out the attention of the local teenage boys.
If you go into Genova looking for a horror movie then you are going to be sorely disappointed. The film has no scares and the supernatural element could be put down to the imagination of a young child who has lost her mother. Once you have these expectations then Genova is a hugely enjoyable cinematic experience that is both emotional and fulfilling.
The quality of the acting in Genova is of a high standard – Firth in particular, who delivers an understated and poignant performance. It’s good to see the actor getting his teeth into a good role rather than starring in lacklustre romantic comedies. Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine (who star as Firth’s daughters) are also good, with Jardine in particular showing some solid acting chops as the youngest and more impressionable sister. Catherine Keener lends strong support as an old flame and work colleague of Firth’s who wants to get close to the widower.
Winterbottom’s film is a beautiful travelogue, with vivid cinematography and powerful visuals. The hand-held camera work gives the film a naturalistic feel, and that coupled with the realistic and understated acting, makes for a film that delves into family life following a tragedy. Using the backstreets of the ancient city, Winterbottom uses it as an extra character, and the twisting and turning of the backstreets gives the film some similarities to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (another film dealing with bereavement in an Italian city.) Special credit must also be given to Melissa Parmenter’s musical score which helps drive the emotional current of the film and heighten the emotion and tension as the film arrives at its climax.
Genova is a low key but immensely fulfilling film that features strong performances and some interesting visuals that make it a cut above the norm. The cast deliver muscular if understated performances that add true emotion to the film giving the viewer a touching cinematic experience. Genova is a slow burning drama that will not leave you disappointed.