Movie Review: Genova

March 31st, 2009

This review is cross-posted on

Stars Colin Firth, Catherine Keener, Hope Davies, Willa Holland, Perla Haney-Jardine
Written by Michael Winterbottom & Laurence Coriat
Certification UK 15
Runtime 94 minutes
Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Following the death of their mother in a car accident, in which they were involved, Kelly and Mary leave America with their English father Joe (Firth) to live in Italy for a year. Via an old girlfriend from college, Barbara (Keener), Joe has been offered a job at the university in Genova as a teacher. The city of Genova provides a fresh start for Joe and his two daughters, but Mary, the youngest, is haunted by nightmares and keeps seeing the ghost of her mother wandering the streets.

Genova is a small production, directed by Michael Winterbottom of 24 Hour Party People and A Mighty Heart fame. In typical Winterbottom style, the film is shot with a hand-held camera, giving a realistic view of the cozy, yet simultaneously claustrophobic narrow streets of Genova. There’s a whole “documentary” vibe going on, and you almost feel as if you’re not looking at actors playing out a story, but actual people just being followed by a camera.

This all creates one of the most true to life film versions of a present day Italy I’ve ever seen. Everything feels genuinely Italian; from the old man who sells them their new apartment to the umbrellas on the beach to the conversations about being Italian the students are having. It all feels real. But there’s one problem I mainly had with Genova and that’s its plot. Here’s a story about a daughter wracked with guilt over the death of her mother, because she caused the car accident. You can see her older sister blaming her for it, while realizing that’s too much weight to put on her young shoulders. Then you keep wondering whether or not the father actually knows the details of that accident, but you keep thinking somewhere deep down inside he is blaming that youngest daughter too.

The whole movie feels like a buildup to one huge gigantic scream-fest family-drama climax… which never happens. There’s a scene which is meant as a “climax”, but it doesn’t even come close to what that buildup promises. After investing 1.5 hours into these characters, the movie just fizzles pathetically out, leaving you no closure. If only it had ended differently, ’cause then I think I would have recommended this little movie to everyone I know. How it stands now though, it just feels like a waste of time. If you like Winterbottom’s films or lifelike documentary-style dramas, give Genova a go. If not: avoid at all costs.