Khristine Shares her Favorite Italian Movies and Series

An Almost Ordinary Summer (Croce e Delizia) general release 2019

Though not really a “film aficionado,” I did happen to snag the very last ticket at the Provincetown Film Festival a couple of years ago for this terrific movie, disappointing my husband, who had to stay home with a book. But how could I help it? This movie is Italian, a comedy and romance, and stars Alessandro Gassmann, a major crush of mine (una cotta grande?). It was so entertaining I wanted to share it, and so I had some adventures due to my meagre language skills, eventually negotiating the purchase of a DVD from a long-suffering Italian vendor. You, on the other hand, won’t have to go to extreme measures to see An Almost Ordinary Summer. Just go to your CLAMS account and get in the “Hold” queue.

The Premise:

In this funny and touching movie, a working-class widower, broken-hearted and panic-stricken after his wife’s death, meets an aristocratic art dealer at a hospital in Rome while they are both awaiting colonoscopy results. Opposites attract, and the two men fall in love, leading to all kind of family complications and confrontations.

The movie begins a year and a half into their relationship, during three weeks in the summer leading up to the secretly planned wedding between these two paterfamilias of the Castelvecchio and Petagna families. Carlo and family are on their way to a “vacation rental” on the coast south of Rome, ready for a good time. In fact, they arrive with their inflatable “banana boat” at the Castelvecchio estate, where they will be housed at the family’s surprisingly rustic “guesthouse.” Toni and Carlo have hatched a plan to get the families together so that they can share the news of their engagement and their impending nuptials. Toni doesn’t foresee any problems clouding his horizon (he’s far too self-centered), but Carlo is a wreck and for good reason. Introducing and blending their wildly different families and their clash of values will be a real project, which immediately seems doomed to failure. 

Two Complicated Families:

La Famiglia Castelvecchio:
is led by father Toni (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), and includes:
his free-wheeling sister Ida; 
her boyfriend, loopy stoner Gianlucone; 
Toni’s laissez-faire Parisian television-star daughter Olivia; 
her appealing and studious young daughter, Elodie; 
the neurotic Penelope (Jasmine Trinca), pre-school principal and daughter of Toni; 
and Giulietta, Vogue correspondent, former partner of Toni for thirty years and Penelope’s mother.

La Famiglia Petagna
is led by Carlo (Alessandro Gassmann), widowed husband of Ornella, and includes:
children of Ornella and Carlo:
eldest son, hot-headed Sandro (Filippo Scicchitano);
and much younger son, wistful pre-teen, Diego; 
Sandro’s jealous, ear-splitting though adorable pregnant wife, Carolina; 
and their young son.

Most of the scenes are shot in the coastal town of Gaeta and the surrounding area, seventy-five miles south of Rome, where villas of the wealthy perch on wild promontories overlooking pristine beaches. It’s the good life for the Castelvecchio family. Rich, cultured, intelligent, sophisticated, aristocratic….and most definitely snobs. Carlo and eldest son Sandro of the Petagna family are working-class fishermen. Their family is loud, emotional, and conservative: they are soccer fanatics for their home team (Lazio), and have their own set of prejudices though, regarding the privileged classes. 

It doesn’t take long for the two eldest children, Penelope Castelvecchio and Sandro Petagna to come to an agreement that they will do whatever it takes to derail the wedding plans. Penelope is deeply resentful of her father. Toni has been the most self-centered and benignly negligent father imaginable. He often confuses his two daughters (from different mothers), while Carlo has never been anything less than a loving husband and attentive father. So while Sandro also wants to stop the wedding, he suffers over the pain he knows it will cause his father. Penelope drives this plan, and her ineptitude is hilarious. The other Castelvecchios don’t seem to care one way or another about which way the relationship goes, keeping themselves mostly busy passing joints around the swimming pool and tormenting Sandro’s wife Carolina with their snarky questions. Penelope enlists her mother, Giulietta, to come and support her, which adds even more complications. Giulietta has her own resentments toward Toni, who cheated on her frequently with both sexes, and by the way, failed to marry her. Things are not looking great for the wedding of Carlo and Toni, especially since the selfish Toni will have to take a good, hard look at himself if he doesn’t want to blow up his own wedding.

The English title of the movie, An Almost Ordinary Summer, has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Italian title, Croce e Delizia, which translates as Curse and Blessing, echoing the great duet of the same name from the opera La Traviata.  Castelvecchio eldest daughter Penelope uses these words to describe her father Toni as “more Curse than Blessing.” Here’s where I get to heap praise on actress Jasmine Trinca (Penelope). Even among a superb ensemble of actors, she plays by far the most complex character in the movie, with the greatest emotional range and with the most memorable lines. Even if you’ve never had a panic attack of your very own, you will recognize how vivid and realistic Trinca’s portrayal really is. And she’s also funny!

Enjoy this entertaining, funny movie. The audience at the Provincetown Film Festival couldn’t stop laughing!

To check out more of Khristine’s Italian movie recommendations, check out Un Progetto Speciale – Part 5!