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Ginevra Elkann Magari

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If Only | 2019 Locarno Film Festival Review

If Only | 2019 Locarno Film Festival Review

Father of My Children: Elkann Siphons Lovingly from Familial Dysfunction for Debut

The holidays will always be rife for cinematic exploration of familial discord and reconciliation, and such is the case for producer Ginevra Elkann’s directorial debut, Magari, an Italian phrase which roughly translates to something like “maybe,” “I wish,” or as its English language title suggests, If Only. Something wistful gets lost in translation with the English language moniker, but the sentiment remains in this mid-1980’s set French-Italian co-production roughly mirroring the director’s own bi-cultural upbringing between sets of notable industrialist magnates. The family at the heart of her gentle debut, guided from the perspective of the preadolescent youngest child of three from a rigid Roman Catholic French mother and their ambivalent Italian filmmaker father, are cut from a much humbler economic cloth than Elkann’s own would suggest, but the narrative experiences feel clearly lived in and overtly familiar. Although nothing transpires as surprisingly as some of the film’s Elkann has produced, ranging from Noaz Deshe’s Venice debuted White Shadow (2013), Lamberto Sanfelice’s Sundance berthed Cloro (2013) and Abdellatif Kechiche’s controversial Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno (2017), it’s a solid, lived-in production featuring a stellar ensemble cast.

Eight-year-old Alma (Oro De Commarque) lives in Paris with her older two brothers Jean (Ettore Giustiniani) and Seb (Milo Roussel). Their mother (Celine Sallette) has recently married their Russian step-father and indoctrinated the children with his strict adherence to Roman Catholicism. Discovering she’s pregnant right as Christmas vacation looms, she packs the children off to Rome to see their somewhat estranged father Carlo (Riccardo Scamarcio), once a successful filmmaker desperate to get out of his slump. The children are well aware of their father’s disinterest, meaning eldest child Seb must more-or-less monitor their well-being, including the administration of his younger brother’s medications, who has diabetes. Carlo maintains a superficially joyous façade with the children, though he’s furiously trying to get a new project off the ground with the help of his new lover, Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher), introduced to the children as his co-writer. Alma, meanwhile, prays for the reconciliation of her parents, which she still sees as a possibility.

Due to the familiarity of the narrative, which transpires over one brief, chaotic Christmas vacation wherein three siblings are forced to adjust to their nuclear family’s continually fluctuating rearrangements, Elkann’s film recalls a number of other contemporary filmmakers. Mia Hansen-Love’s early work come to mind, particularly with the relationship to cinema as seen in Father of My Children (2009). Children navigating mixed messages and religious tradition also bears resemblance to Alice Rohrwacher’s 2011 debut Corpo Celeste, a similarity enhanced by the inclusion of Alba Rohrwacher as dad’s new flame, Benedetta (a bright spot in the proceedings even if she’s forced into a lukewarm, going-through-the-motions dalliance with eldest son, Seb).

Parents making poor choices seems to be the name of the game, with a weather-worn Celine Sallette packing the kids off to Rome for a surprise visit to dad after discovering she’s pregnant with her new Russian husband (being pregnant is hard work, she tells the kids). Of course, it seems a terrible idea not only to tell the children of the pregnancy but also an impending move to Canada, both realities which must be kept secret from dad. Cue the second act crisis.

Beyond the effortlessly captivating Rohrwacher, Magari allows Riccardo Scamarcio a winning performance, who often gives off an irascible Tony Curtis vibe. Recently seen in the likes of Sorrentino’s Loro (2018) and John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), he’s an irresponsible father obsessed with reclaiming the glory days of his early career, attempting to pass his children off on his parents (in a brief but winning tangent of utmost dysfunction) whilst meanwhile ignoring the input of Benedetta, spurring her to make bad decisions with the children (stealing a pair of knock-off sunglasses at a market she tells them, “I didn’t steal, I borrowed them permanently).

Carlo, of course, can’t afford to take the kids on the ski trip they’ve been promised for the holidays, instead packing them off to a cottage owned by his American ex-pat friend Bruce (Brad Gelman), who, of course, returns unexpectedly from a failed business trip to Turkey with a mute friend in tow. Eventually, Benedetta becomes the assuaging ointment, though this bleeds over into boundary issues with Seb. And then, of course, Jean’s diabetes acts up resulting in a hospital issue where all parties are reunited.

While Magari is freewheeling and easygoing, with Elkann resisting melodrama and any pat judgements about the diametrically opposed parents, who both seem blatantly self-absorbed, its ability to leave a lasting impression remains unlikely. Nimbly navigating French, English and Italian, however, displays a cultural and language dexterity which should not be discounted. Elkann ends with a feeling the Italian language title evokes…and maybe you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.

Reviewed on August 07 at the 2019 Locarno Film Festival – Piazza Grande. 100 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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