Originally titled "Genova", this effort by Michael Winterbottom is well-handled as he manages to stir up mild anxiety and a virtual sense of lurking danger through observational perspective even when nothing significant is really going on in the film. This keeps the audience edgy on their toes throughout this film that revolves mainly around a family's adaptation to grievance and change.
A man moves his two daughters to Italy after their mother dies in a car accident, in order to revitalize their lives. Genova changes all three of them as the youngest daughter starts to see the ghost of her mother, while the older one discovers her sexuality.
There's Colin Firth in The Summer in Genoa, it might be somewhat of a buzz attraction since he took the cinematic realm by storm with his amazing sweep of the Best Actor category everywhere last award season for his performance in The King's Speech. Surprisingly, his presence was somewhat undermined by a restricted role written and allowed the limelight to be shared by his two daughters.
Especially the younger one, Mary (played by Perla Haney-Jardine).
Seemingly the weakest link among the three, her portrayal of a young one who's just underwent a traumatic car accident that resulted in the lost of her mother is indeed a convincing act. Her nightly tragic wails in memory of her never-returning mother gets to you so instantly, in contrast to her reserved daily behaviour in front of her loving father and her gradually rebellious teenage sister.
It makes you wonder what exactly's going on in that little girl's mind.
Possibly the least affected among them, Kelly (Willa Holland) seems to be obsessed with her newly found sexuality as she experiments a romantic relationship with a native Italian boy whom she met at a beach trip with her family. Of course, there's brief hints of her memories of the car crash during certain rides on her boyfriend's motorbike.
She doesn't forget, but taking it much better than her sister does.
On the other hand, Joe - the father of the two daughters, has to bear the responsibility of helping his two daughters move on without their mother as well as to adapt to their new home that happens to be a strange city in Italy. We don't exactly know why he decides to relocate to Italy, since he doesn't speak much Italian, but we do get an opportunity to be treated to nice summer views of Genoa at times.
Not all the time as we get to see Mary and Kelly transit between their piano teacher's home and theirs, walks in dark narrow alleyways that is a main source of the seemingly lurking sense of danger that Winterbottom instills so well within his audience.
Those brooding alleyways are what Mary has to adapt to, as a young child.
Camerawork is often raw and sometimes handheld, otherwise frequently feeling like a "fly-on-a-wall" third party documentation of their lives in Genoa.
We have to understand that despite what's discussed prior, this film tells a bland post-tragedy tale of a family who adapts to a new life of changes. Nothing much takes place as there's merely daily routine activities of the three family members observed by Winterbottom's camera. He doesn't try to analyse and intercept our interpretation of the scenes, less the brooding scenes of the alleyways.
It's amazing how he arrests our attention span when nothing is really happening.