Monday, August 15, 2016

Two Great Ferragosto Films for Today's Holiday

In Venice Ferragosto is best spent on the water    (photo credit: Jen)

Today is the Italian national holiday of Ferragosto, whose name--in spite of the date's later incarnation as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary--hearkens back to its origins in the age of Caesar Augustus.

Traditionally, one is supposed to take a trip today, and a Ferragosto trip is the starting point for Dino Risi's 1962 dark comedy Il Sorpasso, starring Vittorio Gassman. The title literally means "the overtaking," or "the passing", as the mis-matched pair of main characters quite literally do to other motorists a number of times in the course of their free-wheeling road trip. But the title also refers to the Italian "economic miracle" of the late 1950's and early '60s, and the changing manner of Italian life that was the focus of so many Italian films of the period (La Dolce Vita being perhaps the most famous).

If Il Sorpasso is all about the hazards of getting too caught up in the desperate rush of modern life and the glossy promises of a swinging '60s Italy, Mid-August Lunch, written, directed and starring Gianni di Gregorio, and released in 2008, is a wistfully comic depiction of the end of the road.

Not only are the racy days of the film Il Sorpasso long past, but so too is the seeming promise of another "Il Sorpasso": the term by which Italian media referred to Italy's 1987 overtaking of Britain's economy in terms of GDP.

The Italy of di Gregorio's film is just about out of gas, and except for a beautiful sunlit sequence in which he scooters around a holiday-empty Rome to scrape up enough food for the Ferragosto lunch that he must prepare for his elderly, sovereign mother and her friends, the film's protagonist goes (and is going) nowhere--but with a hang-dog charm, warmth, and shoddy elegance that is somehow heartening, displaying the resilience of a very old but not entirely worn out culture, of an abiding grace in reduced circumstances. 

Each film, in its own way, will get you in the mood of Ferragosto, no matter how far from Italy you may be.


  1. I saw the latter film a few years ago on our multi-cultural TV station. It was a little winner. Buon Ferragosto a te.

    1. Very belated Buon Ferragosto to you, too, Yvonne. I should wish you Buon Ferrasettembre. And, yes, there's a lot going on in that di Gregorio film (which I think is better than its followup).