Michael Winterbottom is a difficult man to gauge, with a career spanning many different genres and influences. So having just watched “The Killer Inside Me”, I decided to delve into his back catalogue and examine the tender “Genova”.
Having lost his wife (Hope Davis) in a fatal car accident, a British university lecturer Joe (Colin Firth) decides to take his American-born daughters (Mary and Kelly) to Genova for a year on a teaching assignment. With an old college friend and colleague Barbara (Catherine Keener) as his guide, Joe must confront the ghost of his wife and the imprint it has left on his family in an unfamiliar landscape.
With the lightest of hands, Winterbottom has created the subtlest of stories, never lurching forward but evolving with every scene. The most immediate representation of this is how it acts as a beautiful travelogue of the city, capturing vivid images with a filming style that evokes the feel of being travelers ourselves. It is never glossed, appearing real and suitably lived in at all times.
The lost history of the region easily parellels the lives of the family, having lost part of their own identity. The students reason that thru have more than one facet to their own, yet the two girls have yet to discover themselves to the same extent, even in a theoretical sense. They are pushing their boundries, in the perfect playground for doing so.
This history however haunts Mary most of all, whereas the citizens embrace that which comes from their own culture, illustrating that they are never truly at one with time and place. Language is the more obvious play on such an idea yet Winterbottom knows that it is not a firm enough basis on more than a superficial level to highlight the underlying problems, deftly choosing multiple modus operandi.
Classically, Genova is not the escape they seek but a catalyst for old wounds to surface and that the plot organically develops alleviates any problems in differentiation from other pieces.
The acting of both children is suitable for the roles they play but they never truly own them, transforming them into something more than the simplistic. Firth is stuck in a similar rut, somewhere between inaction and hoping to forget, he is incapable of bringing it to it’s natural conclusion.
Davis is limited to being truly ephemoral, a tool which serves the story well but limits the scope of a beautiful actress who is so often underutilized. She is a creation of their collective memories and nothing more.
Such a finale as provided can’t quite match the content throughout, feeling artificial and half-hearted, yet it cannot diminish what has already been established. Overall Genova is an interesting but never concrete in what it hopes to be.