Locarno International Film Festival 2019 – August 8, 2019
Locarno opens with a Franco-Italian film starring Alba Rohrwacher and Riccardo Scamarcio.
Rai Com distributes internationally this year’s opening film at Locarno, If Only (Magari in Italian) by Director Ginevra Elkann.
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International press review
Variety, August 7, 2019
Accomplished producer and first-time feature director Ginevra Elkann draws on her own childhood for a loose, likable dysfunctional family portrait.
Ginevra Elkann’s sweetly ruminative debut feature, though the more blandly whimsical “If Only” has been chosen as its English moniker, which is neither wrong nor quite right. Yet that elusiveness is apt enough in the case of Elkann’s semi-autobiographical film, which presents family tensions and divisions that are at once universally recognizable and firmly rooted in her Franco-Italian upbringing: Following a splintered family’s reconciliation over the course of one shambolic Christmas vacation, it’s a gentle, cool breeze of a memory piece made pleasurable by its richly and specifically accented telling. That might not translate into major global distribution, but this year’s Locarno opener will win friends on the festival circuit.
Elkann has already established herself on the European arthouse scene as an intrepid producer of bold, border-crossing projects, including Noaz Deshe’s “White Shadow” and Babak Jalali’s “Frontier Blues.” Her first feature as a writer-director — coming 14 years after the first short — is perhaps less formally adventurous than her production résumé might suggest, though it’s clearly a work of intimate personal investment, likely to inspire comparisons to Mia Hansen-Løve’s early films in its talky, wistful quality and flirtation with memoir.
There are no grand revelations here, just comforting, cumulatively moving observations we can all recognize: that our parents are rarely either the heroes or monsters we make them out to be at critical points in our childhoods, and that no amount of “magari” thinking can change the families we’re given or the shape they take.
Elkann handles a charismatic, freewheeling ensemble — including her trio of non-pro child performers — with apparent ease, while her filmmaking is no less casually assured. Desideria Rayner’s intuitive editing lends proceedings a spiky, diary-like rhythm, while d.p. Vladan Radovic, shooting on film, conjures a grainy, tactile aesthetic without straying into Instagram-filter kitsch. Indeed, much of the film exudes the milky, sun-faded sheen of old family photographs — perfect for these 30-year-old memories, whether they all belong to the director or not.
Screendaily, August 7, 2019
Family agonies play out in elegantly sketched, if hardly unfamiliar fashion, in If Only, the debut feature by Italian writer-director Ginevra Elkann, better known as a producer and distributor (respectively, at Italian companies Asmara Films and Good Films). This year’s opening film at Locarno, If Only is essentially a coming-of-age story bolstered by prestigious adult presences, notably Riccardo Scamarcio and Alba Rohrwacher, alongside French stawart Céline Sallette.This tender, highly personal-seeming work never transcends the conventions of approachable Italian art cinema, but works engagingly in its own terms.
The film’s main appeal lies in a trio of terrific, adroitly directed performances from young newcomers, notably Oro de Commarque as eight year-old Alma, whose fresh, candid turn contributes charm that sustains the film even when other aspects are a little conventional. Domestic, festival and online prospects are assured, wider theatrical distribution less so.
Variety, August 6, 2019 – Interview with GE
Cineuropa, August 7, 2019 – Review: “impressive crowd-pleasing story”
Locarno opens with an impressive crowd-pleasing story centring on the children of divorce by Ginevra Elkann. The opening film of the 72nd Locarno Film Festival is a delightfully told family story. […] An impressive aspect of Ginevra Elkann’s debut film is the way she keeps the narrative embedded in reality, while our narrator continually floats off into fantasy. There are no ghosts here, just a wonderful life. Are we supposed to believe everything that happens? […] Both Scamarcio and Rohrwacher live up to their stellar reputations with performances full of nuance and tiny quirks. But it’s Oro De Commarque as Alma who steals the picture.
Director Elkann shows a wonderful ability to deal with heavy themes in a light-hearted way. Alma’s observations and dialogue are regularly droll. Some scenes are a little on the nose, but this is easily forgiven when we arrive at the grand finale, which takes place around a dinner table under the Roman sun. There are plenty of fine observations along the way that elevate simple situations, most notably when the women in Carlo’s life share a cigarette in a car. Following a classical structure, even the pet dog has its pay-off. This is the funny, light and sentimental film on divorce that we didn’t know we were waiting for.
The Hollywood Reporter, August 8, 2019
The Locarno fest’s opening-night selection is a comic coming-of-age drama told largely from an 8-year-old girl’s perspective. There’s a pint-size die-hard romantic at the center of Magari: Alma, age 8, who with her two older brothers spends a shambolic and charmed holiday season with their divorced dad. Coursing beneath their seaside interlude is a little girl’s intense longing, reflected in the English title of this Italian-French production: If Only. Alma holds tight to the hope that her parents, who split when she was a baby, will remarry. She’s certain, all evidence to the contrary, that this turn of events would set the world spinning in its proper orbit.
Ginevra Elkann, a producer who began her film career as assistant director on Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged, makes her feature directing debut with a film that’s steeped in a tender but not sugarcoated nostalgia. Vladan Radovic’s flowing, nimble camerawork is perfectly in sync with the gently messy emotional terrain of the story — written with sharp, unfussy insight by the helmer and Chiara Barzini— and especially with its immersion in child’s-eye-view sensory delights.
Alma (a lovely turn by Oro De Commarque), broody 14-year-old Sebastiano, aka Seb (Milo Roussel), and diabetic middle kid Jean (Ettore Giustiniani), whose health issues have perhaps heightened his devotion to TV superheroes, fly from Paris to Rome for a Christmastime visit with their father, Carlo (a pitch-perfect Riccardo Scamarcio), a struggling screenwriter. Their mother, Charlotte (Céline Sallette), is an eccentrically pious convert to the Russian Orthodox faith of her husband, Pavel (Benjamin Baroche) — who’s understandably deemed “really boring” by the kids. Along with the clothing they pack for a ski trip that never happens, Charlotte has sent them off with little warning and two secrets that won’t remain under wraps for long: She’s pregnant, and she and Pavel plan to move the family to Canada.
Under an auspiciously sunny sky, Dad arrives late at the airport, but with an adorable mutt in tow. That combo of screw-up and charisma is his m.o. But as well-seasoned as his captivating shtick may be, Carlo regards the reunion with a twinge of fear. He’s far from a constant presence in his kids’ lives; when he urges them to speak Italian rather than their now-preferred French, Seb responds with a sullen teenage dig: “It’s hard speaking Italian every two years.” Carlo’s also distracted by work, consumed with getting a production company to greenlight his new screenplay — one that he claims has drawn the attention of Mastroianni.
Based on that name-drop and Jean’s Game Boy console, the story is unfolding in the early ’90s — as Italian audiences surely will deduce from the pop songs that spark car sing-alongs and celebratory dancing in key scenes. Carlo’s typewriter might look like an affectation to contemporary eyes, but given his financial situation, it’s more likely that it’s a necessary holdout during the end of an era.
Whatever his anxieties, Carlo temporarily abandons the kids at his parents’ place. Static overhead shots capture the orderly geometry of their well-appointed place, a striking contrast to the free-spirited days that lie ahead, after Carlo retrieves Alma and her brothers in an early-morning sneak maneuver. This time he’s accompanied not just by his scruffy dog but by his loose-limbed writing partner, Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher, terrific). She might also be his lover, and, at least in the eyes of film producers, it seems she’s the better writer — one of many tantalizing details woven seamlessly into the screenplay.
Instead of the planned trip to the mountains, Carlo takes the kids to the seaside, where he has a modest house. Seb understands that this off-season beach trip is a cost-saving measure, but Alma views the choice of location through heart-shaped rose-colored glasses: It’s a return to a place that her parents once shared, and therefore another sign that they’re destined to reunite. When she thinks of romantic couples — like herself and a cool teen boy with a moped — Alma envisions wedding scenes, and foremost in her imagined nuptial pairings are her parents, whose reunion is the subject of her ardent prayers and at least one nauseating sacrifice.
The unrushed idyll that unfurls is alive with discovery, flirtation, parties and several characters’ boundary-testing drifts between darkness and joy. Brett Gelman (Fleabag), as an American film-biz friend of Carlo’s, bursts in on the lazy days with a high-energy blast of weird intensity and loud English, accompanied by a mysterious silent partner.
After such an organic narrative ebb and flow, two key dramatic turns in the late going can’t quite shake off the feeling of contrivance. Magari is not an indelible film, but it casts a sensuous spell, and Elkann has an eye for odd and lovely details, impulsive hairpin turns and everyday moments charged with emotion: a first kiss; the ineffable intimacy of a shared sandwich during a wayward journey — memories in the making, and wishes giving way, if grudgingly at first, to the unexpected.
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