Tuesday 29 September 2009


Colin Firth's most interesting performances seem destined to go unheralded. As Joe, in Michael Winterbottom's Genova, he digs deep into the role of a husband attempting to make a new life for himself and his kids following the death of his wife (Hope Davis) in a car accident, and comes up with a nuanced, subtle performance. Unfortunately, the film hardly surfaced in British cinemas but it's well worth seeking out now on DVD. It re-teams Winterbottom with Laurence Coriat, the writer of what is, for me, the director's best work: the beautiful tough-but-tender portrait of London loneliness and London connection, Wonderland (1999). Though quite different in tone, Genova retains some of that film's intimacy, spontaneity and truth. Joe takes up a teaching post in Genova, taking his two daughters with him. When the family arrive, they have a month to spend together before the new term starts and the film charts their response to the town and its effect upon their grief. While older daughter Kelly (Willa Holland) quickly finds a kind of solace in the company of other teens (albeit one that brings her into conflict with her father) Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) is haunted by what she feels to be her role in her mother's death, and begins to experience visions of her mother walking in the streets. Employing a skeleton crew, Winterbottom and cinematographer Marcel Zyskind shoot the film mainly handheld; the scenes have a loose, natural rhythm. The city is presented evocatively but unostentatiously and the film wears its Don't Look Now parallels lightly. The conventional child-in-peril ending is a little pat but Genova remains a gem.


  1. Oh well, at least you saw it. That must make about five of us.

  2. I love this movie, but in a different way I loved WONDERLAND. Somehow, I think that its matter-of-fact surface hides a very wide and very incisive narration about how secular we all have become and how difficult it is to let a religious impulse into our lives - how we sanitize it with cultural studies blabber Colin Firth's character is so swift at using. The younger sister definitely feels something of a religious longing for the immortality of an individual soul, as promised by Christianity (Catherine Keener's character says to her: people live as long as the memory of them, which is a secular version of the same belief).

    What I find most telling is that Colin Firth's classes in the movie are so utterly devoid of any scholarly *meaning*. He discusses the students' identities idly and without consequence. At the very end, he says something to the effect of: "Oh, well, you have to hand in your paper, but it's the end of class so you don't have to make an effort". He doesn't really teach them anything, and it certainly doesn't seem like he understands the centuries-long cultural climate of Genova.

    I found it a splendid account of our secular world suddenly hitting a wall. I place it second in Winterbottom's ouevre, right after the magnificent A COCK AND BULL STORY.

  3. Thanks, Michal, for your thoughtful comment.

    Did the movie go down well in Poland? I seem to remember that it was screening in a few places in Krakow when I was there this summer. Here it was hardly seen - and not much liked where it was seen.

    An interesting piece on Winterbottom here:


    What did you think of 9 Songs, btw?

  4. Interesting comments....but I was underwhelmed with Firth's performance, and that spoilt the whole film for me. There was a coldness in his acting

  5. I know what you mean, John. I'm no big Fan of Firth myself generally (just saw his miserable performance in Stephan Elliot's miserable Easy Virtue). But for me his performance in Genova was one of his best.

  6. Word's good on his work in A Single Man as well ...