Made in Italy

MADE IN ITALY. Starring: Liam Neeson, Micheal Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, and Valeria Bilello. Directed by James D’Arcy. Rated M (Coarse language, violence and a sex scene). 102 min.

This English-speaking Italian comedy-drama tells the story of an unconventional artist, who journeys from London to Tuscany (Italy) with his young-adult son, to try and sell a house left to them by his deceased wife. Liam Neeson stars opposite his real-life son, Micheál Richardson, and it is the Director’s (James D’Arcy) first full length feature film.

Robert (Liam Neeson) is an English artist of repute, who has been estranged from his son, Jack (Micheál Richardson) for many years. Robert stopped painting after the death of his wife. When she passed away, she left a run-down villa in Tuscany, and Robert and Jack travel together to Italy to see what they have inherited. Jack wants to “sell the house, one way or another” to rescue a gallery he manages back in London.

On arriving in Tuscany, they unexpectedly find that the house is in a severe state of disrepair. It is a crumbling home that desperately needs attention, but it communicates positive signs of what it must have been like in the past, and stirs memories of family time in it. The house was once a beautiful villa, and can no longer be described in that way, but in the time that Jack and his father spend together in Tuscany, father and son not only repair the house, but re-connect emotionally with each other, after facing the consequences of their past.

Robert decides to renovate, and father and son quarrel about what that means, and how exactly to do it. They row about how to repair the house without losing its memories, and Robert hires some town locals to help. Limited assistance also comes from strong-speaking, assertive Kate (Lindsay Duncan), who specialises in selling Italian Villas as quickly as she can.

Given their time together, the conflicts that have separated father from son over the years slowly surface and both of them learn to reestablish the affection they want from each other. A subplot of the film is provided to distract the viewer along the way - a young, Italian female chef, Natalia (Valeria Bilello) finds herself attracted romantically to Jack, who returns the feeling, and the plot thickens when a jealous ex-husband appears on the scene to threaten their attachment.

Tuscany is a beautiful area of Italy and the film aims to show it. The cinematography captures the scenic appeal of Tuscan countryside, and there are strong images of “magnificently undulating Tuscan Hills”, but the area’s natural beauty is secondary to the movie’s dramatic plot-line which strongly emphases father-son connection amidst the wondrous conviviality of the Italian culture. The photos of Tuscany-surrounds are colourful and vividly displayed, and beguilingly scenic, but the core theme of the movie clearly resides in the emotional rapprochement of father and son, who have allowed themselves to become alienated from each other.

The reasons why Robert and Jack are estranged are shown as the movie develops. Robert was traumatised by the death of his wife, and the movie explains the true nature of the grief caused by her death, and Jack has blamed his father for whatever has happened. The film revisits the past, and the personal conflicts involved are unravelled as the movie proceeds, but it is the cathartic release from emotional memories that eventually brings father and son close together. The acting of Neeson and Richardson is finely nuanced, and both real father and real son give very convincing performances.

This is a warm, good-hearted movie set in scenic surrounds that focuses on the significance of the attachment which grows between father and son, who need each other. The movie is entertainingly enjoyable, and constitutes comfortable, easy viewing. It sentimentally explores (though effectively so) the surface level of the conflict that has festered over time. All comes right eventually, as far as house, father and son are concerned, but it is a relatively smooth journey for those caught up in a sadness that has been left to lie in the past for such a  long time.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Palace Films

Released August 13, 2020

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