If Only is a charming, gentle and at times poignant coming-of-age story told from the point of view of an 8yo Italian girl yearning for her divorced parents to reunite. Imbued with a sense of authenticity, beautifully written and performed.
Debut feature writer/director Ginevra Elkann draws on her own life experience in If Only and it shows. The film is invested with heart and rings true.
There is nothing particularly original about the setup. 8yo Alma (an endearing Oro de Commarque) dreams of her divorced parents getting back together, and does her best to make it happen. Her best – which includes bargaining with God by drinking her brother’s urine to prompt an act of divine intervention – is far from good enough.
For a start, Alma and her brothers – the younger Jean, a diabetic, and sullen teen Seb – live in Paris with their mother Charlotte (Celine Sallette), while her filmmaker father Carlo (Riccardo Scarmacio) lives in Rome. Further, Charlotte is pregnant to her new partner and planning to move her brood to Canada.
When Alma and her sibs join their dad in Italy for the summer holidays, they are given strict instructions not to mention the pregnancy or Canada plans. You can guess how that goes.
As with all coming-of-age summer hols, this one has the essential ingredients of new friends, first love, and bitter-sweet lessons as to the realities of the world. Carlo, for example, seems less focused on his kids than his “assistant” Bernadetta (Alba Rohrwacher) and a screenplay he is writing. He embodies the self-centred, unreliable artist, but his foibles are relatable and easily forgiven, especially by his doting little daughter. And when a near-tragedy has Charlotte rushing from Paris to join them – well, could Alma’s impossible dream finally come true?
Something I particularly enjoy about European slice-of-family-life films like If Only is the cultural differences that inevitably pop up that distinguish Continental from Anglo takes on life and cinema. For example, at one point a justifiably enraged Carlo twice slaps Seb hard across the face and no one present, including Charlotte, objects. In another scene, a fraught and obviously pregnant Charlotte is offered a cigarette by a consoling female companion and accepts. Then there’s the shot of Alma snuggling into the back of her crush, local late-teen heartthrob Marco, as he gives her a ride home on his moped.
This content would have been unthinkable in an Anglo film, partly because of cultural differences, but also because our cinema has become horribly self-censorial. Continental cinema is so much less uptight. A slap across the face is not necessarily child abuse. A pregnant woman puffing on a cigarette in a moment of anxiety and weakness is not an outrage to be edited out. A little girl given a ride home on the back of a scooter by a young adult does not invoke pedophilia.
If Only is no world-beater, but it’s charming and well-acted, and refreshing in its presention of its child lead’s innocence and the imperfections of the human world she is learning to navigate. Recommended.
Movie Website: https://en.unifrance.org/movie/48499/magari
If Only screening dates (2019-20 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
Somerville: Mon 2-Sun 8 Mar, 7.30pm
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