Dir: Federico Bondi. Italy-Romania-France. 2008. 95mins.

Just as his characters don't quite make it all the way to the Black Sea, so Federico Bondi's debut doesn't quite succeed in getting all its good intentions up onto the screen. A simple, sentimental tale of the relationship between an elderly Italian woman and her young Romanian carer, the film pushes its characters to unnecessary extremes and overplays the cliches on its way to a confusing ending. Shot in HD, it could have a modest theatrical career in its homeland, followed by a comfortable run on family TV channels.

Gemma (Occhini), a bitter old woman living in Florence who feels the whole world is to blame for her creaking joints and solitary existence, takes her son's (Solari) advice and accepts the help of a young Romanian, Angela (Petre). Though she pretends she can get along by herself, Gemma knows she needs constant assistance and having to rely on others is a daily reminder of her weakness. The only way she can make up for this is by making others suffer as well. The shy, submissive Angela, just arrived from Romania and hardly speaking Italian, is however determined to keep her job if only because she knows how much the money she earns is needed by her husband (Ivanov) back home.

Predictably enough, Gemma soon becomes more dependent and learns to appreciate the young woman's dedication. In time, the ice between them melts. When Angela decides to return home to find out why her husband hasn't been in touch, Gemma suggests they go together. Angela makes an unpleasant discovery there and Gemma, suddenly in a completely alien world, makes up her mind to change.

Under a more experienced director, this could have turned into a heart-warming personal melodrama against a backdrop of two European cultures learning to live together. But the comparisons Bondi draws are a bit too obvious - the noisy Romanian Christmas versus the bland Italian Christmas dinner, the old-fashioned tightly knit family in the East versus the cool, polite family ties of the West, the domesticated Arno flowing through Florence versus the wilderness surrounding the waterways of the Danube Delta where Angela and Gemma end up.

He also allows Occhini, who dominates the first part of the film, to overact, creating a mean, capricious, choleric character. Only when she softens and starts to display some interest in other human beings does she become believable enough to sympathize with. Up and coming newcomer Petre is more comfortable with her character and could find a niche for herself in the West. Two other fine Romanian actors, Maia Morgenstern (as Angela's sister) and Vlad Ivanov, are sadly underused.

Production companies
Film Kairos (Italy)

RAI Cinema (Italy)

Hi Films (Romania)
Manigolda Film (France)

International sales
(39) 06 85304329

Francesco Pamphili

Executive producers
Giorgio Priolo
Marina Spada

Screen play
Ugo Chiti
Federico Bondi

Luigi Martinucci

Production designer
Daniele Spisa

Ilaria Fraioli

Enzo Casucci
Guy Klucevsek

Main cast
Ilaria Occhini
Dorotheea Petre
Vlad Ivanov
Maia Morgenstern
Corso Salani