Wednesday 10 June 2020

Café society: "Citizens of the World"

Gianni Di Gregorio is the veteran Italian creative who notched up a writing credit on that major international hit Gomorrah before forging a late-life career as a purveyor of light, genial comedies: both 2008's Mid-August Lunch and 2011's The Salt of Life were a little too relaxed for this viewer's tastes, but they slotted comfortably and profitably into the UK's growing number of Silver Screen slots. Now Di Gregorio's latest Citizens of the World ambles our way, and in this of all historical moments, you can see how this director's house style might provide agitated streamers with a measure of respite. Few Italian filmmakers distributed in the UK this side of Fellini have proven so keen to evoke la dolce vita, Di Gregorio setting his characters down outside trattoria in the kind of sunny, sparsely populated town squares few of us will get to this summer; in one scene in Citizens, the characters clutch massive sandwiches and beers and carry on small talk while oblivious to the supremely photogenic lake occupying the backdrop. The spirit of Di Gregorio's films may be more memorable than their attached shaggy-dog stories: this one has the director and Giorgio Colangeli as a pair of retirees who, after noticing their pensions are being eaten up by the state's deductions, spend a week weighing up the option of moving abroad, and wind up travelling not much more than half an hour down the road and back. The Di Gregorio oeuvre remains as conservative as those smalltown squares, resistant to anything so jolting as change; the title of the new film can be understood as innately ironic.

If a charm comes to be worked on the viewer, it derives from the experience of encountering a film that appears to date from a gentler time, perhaps even an earlier century - from an era when a director could stock his film three-deep with old white men and not get unduly huffy or defensive about doing so. Citizens of the World's closest reference point in 21st century cinema would have to be plucked from that recent run of retiree heist comedies - of which Zach Braff's Going in Style would be the most prominent - but Di Gregorio feels no need to arm himself with a Hollywood narrative motor, being content for his film to putter along at the pace of a clapped-out Vespa, occasionally distracted by an open bar (the casual drinking rivals that in the films of Korean festival favourite Hong Sang-soo) or pretty face. The overarching joke is that what these characters are preparing to leave behind in search of a better life would do pretty nicely for you and me at any time (but especially now); only belatedly do they realise that fact, leading to a not terribly convincing happy ending in which these old puffins figure divert some of their mobility (in the form of the money that enables mobility) to a more deserving and desperate party. Once again, I could see the appeal without ever quite succumbing to it: much like its predecessors, Citizens of the World is diverting enough, and its characters make for reasonable good company, yet its comedy element remains stubbornly mild. Di Gregorio's films make the primetime ITV sitcoms I was deposited in front of as a child - shows such as Fresh Fields and Duty Free - seem like the anarchic handiwork of an Andy Kaufman.

Citizens of the World will be available to stream via Curzon from Friday.

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