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May 10, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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Michael Winterbottom is probably this decade’s most prolific anti-auteur. While there’s some parallels in his recent films—the meta-fictional humour of Tristram Shandy and 24 Hour Party People, for instance, or the Iraq-centred subject matter of A Mighty Heart and The Road to Guantanamo—few directors possess a filmography as idiosyncratically un-individual as Winterbottom. Genova is no exception, at odds with the rest of his output this decade as a low-key and poignant tale of a man and his two daughters recovering from the death of his saintly wife, Marianne.

Winterbottom takes the reins with a decidedly muted approach, devoid of the flourishes of 24 Hour Party People or the pseudo-realism of Tristram Shandy. Genova’s aesthetics are quietly stunning, with the beaches and buildings of the titular Italian city suggesting a world separated from reality. However, while Winterbottom often dedicates segments of the film to the grungy beauty of Genova’s alleyways and architecture, it’s not his primary concern, and the city remains merely a locale in which people live out their lives.

Colin Firth takes the lead as Joe, university lecturer (teaching god-knows-what), mourning husband and devoted father. While not as brilliant as he is in A Single Man, Firth gives a fantastic performance nonetheless, feeling the grief and yet visibly shunting it to one side, trying to escape it. Meanwhile, Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jadine are good as Joe’s two daughters, the former (and older) discovering her sexuality in the breezy town and the latter haunted by the guilt she habours over her role in her mother’s death. However, their performances can be inconsistent, and the two are prone to overacting at points.

Genova’s quiet humanism and languid pacing make it an interesting, if sometimes laborious watch. Winterbottom and screenwriter Laurence Coriat are prone to getting lost in the alleyways of their narrative, with scenes often stretching on beyond breaking point due to an apparent inability to call cut or remove dialogue. Furthermore, the music is guilty of being overbearing and telegraphing the action, and there are a number of plot holes and irritations, not least Joe’s astoundingly vague lecturing job. However, Genova is a heartfelt film that offers more than enough emotionally to make it a satisfying experience.

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

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