In juxtaposition to the darker, more morbid themes inherent to the screenplay however is also a firm sense of hope and romanticism. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful city of Genoa in Italy, daughters Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Kelly (Willa Holland) along with their widower father Joe (Colin Firth) set about making a new start away from the despair from their collective past. This of course allows both older sister Kelly and Joe to seek out relationships that serve as a way to lightly distract from the misfortune involving their mother and wife, and in turn allows Genova to shed a lighter, more hopeful melody. Yet such moments are certainly not without their stark reminders as to what these characters are inevitably running from. Within the character of Mary who is the younger of the sisters lies the most unsettling and reaffirming reminder of the accident. Unable to move on quite as readily as her father and sister, Mary begins seeing visions of her mother which usually results in her screaming in the middle of the night when her "ghost"—or memory—disappears.
This sense of claustrophobia is further explored through a variety of sequences, some of which are undoubtedly overdone and overexposed throughout the ninety minute runtime—yet they nevertheless serve an important purpose. Given that the story of Genova is largely character based, there is always cause for concern that the heavy-handed material and themes inherent to such analysis will lead to a slow-moving narrative serving only to alienate viewers. This is where director Michael Winterbottom's undertones of danger and ominous uncertainty helps create a much more flowing and engaging piece. While it could be argued that Winterbottom perhaps spoils the integrity of his film by resorting to such moments on more than a few occasions in what is a relatively short film; the vast majority works well with the more romanticised, sombre and restrained aspects of the feature to reflect the melancholic nature of the script.
What serves as the central component to Genova's story however, is undoubtedly its greatest attribute. Through the characters of Mary, Kelly, Joe and Joe's old-flame Barbara (Catherine Keener), key themes of family, strength through loss, and moving on after death can truly shine. Particularly engaging here is the combination of Firth with young actress Perla Haney-Jardine who shares a compelling and always tangible relationship as father and daughter that feels natural and sweet. Firth, who has up until now proved himself one of this country's finest and most mature of thespians, again delivers a performance that establishes a fine balance between remaining natural and yet always bursting with screen-presence and charisma. The same of course can be said with the remainder of the cast, with particular attention to Haney-Jardine who shows that even actors of her age group can succeed in delivering intelligent and emotionally resonant characters.
Performances aside however, Genova nevertheless succeeds because of the characters it offers those actors which in the end decide whether the movie will live or die in the eyes of audiences. Winterbottom here crafts an unassuming and disquieted feature that will no doubt fail to grasp the attention of some because of its slow-moving, almost non-existent plot—but for fans of intricate but not overly sentimental character drama, the majority of Genova will do little wrong. If there is one failing to the production it would be that despite the already short runtime, the feature as a whole feels too much for what should naturally be a much shorter and more concise story. Nevertheless, with strong compelling characters and a tale that always engages through those characters, Genova is a pleasant and touching journey of discovery that always feel human and genuinely invested in detailing one of the hardest parts of life through death itself.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)