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Colin Firth in Genova

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

COLIN Firth doesn’t take too many risks with the roles he takes, but when he does the results often make for more interesting film experiences (think Trauma or Where The Truth Lies).

Genova once again finds the actor operating outside of his comfort zone as a recently widowed father struggling to look after his family and get on with his life.

It’s an intimate family tale and ethereal ghost story directed by Michael Winterbottom that’s unexpectedly moving and quietly gripping.

The plot is simple and relatively slow-paced. Grieving father Joe (Firth) accepts a teaching post in Genova, Italy, following the death of his wife in a car accident inadvertently caused by his youngest daughter.

Once there, the family attempt to come to terms with their grief and the possibility of a new start in life with the support of sympathetic family friend, Barbara (Catherine Keener).

But while teenage daughter Kelly (Willa Holland) relishes the opportunity to explore her burgeoning sexuality with Italy’s lusty males, thereby creating a distance with her father, 10-year-old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) begins to be troubled by visions of her late mother.

By employing the same documentary style that has become his trademark, Winterbottom brings an intimacy and authenticity to the ensuing drama that’s both painfully raw and heartbreakingly intense.

The friction that exists between Joe’s two daughters is expertly under-played, while feelings of guilt and regret are cleverly left to bubble underneath the surface.

The supernatural element is also well-handled, creating a sense of discomfort that works far better than any impromptu shocks or bumps in the dark.

Firth, for his part, is quietly affecting as the family patriarch, struggling to suppress his emotions while beginning a new life in a vibrant European city and remain strong for his children. It’s a masterful performance that suggests he should take risks more often.

While Holland is a star in the making, displaying just the right amount of sexual allure to reward Winterbottom’s lingering camera. Haney-Jardine, meanwhile, nails the role of the youngest, guilt-ravaged daughter and never over-plays the emotions involved, or drifts into precosciousness.

All the performances feel natural and help to contribute to the film’s poignant conclusion, which is guaranteed to stay with you for some time afterwards.

Genova is therefore strongly recommended for fans of intelligent, involving cinema, as well as for anyone who has previously written off Firth as a one-trick pony.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 94mins
UK DVD Release: July 13, 2009