In an age when everyone is being encouraged to celebrate and own who they are without apology – unless you are a rightwing reactionary in which case stay just as you are, thank you; or better yet, don’t be that person at all in the first place – it is odd how we continue to treat old people.
Tucked away in retirement homes and sequestered in villages of identical dwellings, they are expected to stay quiet, out of the way and for all that is good and holy, not even think about living.
Franca (Nunzia Schiano), a sweetly-innocent but gutsy when needed retired restaurateur from Naples, and Angela (Claudia Cardinale), a Duchess who has lost her fortune through gambling, are having none of that sort of life-limiting philosophy.
Bored out of their ever-aspirant brains in their retirement home in Rome, they concoct a mischievously-elaborate plan, with the aid of Franca’s disaffected granddaughter Matilde (Daphne Scoccia), to hit the road, like septuagenerian Thelma and Louises, or ageing Ferris Buellers, for Venezia where Angela’s famous conductor son will be performing.
It’s all wildly silly and gloriously over-the-top but you don’t begrudge Laszlo Barbo’s often surprisingly heartfelt confection one iota of its fun as it goes from improbable set-up to brilliantly-hilarious execution, all the while celebrating the fact that bodies may age but the human spirit has a marvellous way of defying those degrading odds.
The trick, of course, in the middle of all the shenanigans, and there are shenanigans aplenty in what is essentially a caper film where yes there is fittingly stealing (for the best of causes naturally in which case — thieve away) is keeping the film rooted and centred on some fairly-affecting humanity which Barbo does superbly, his script with Raffaele Napoli never once forgetting that Franca and Angela are not simply pot devices but real, living, breathing human beings who simply want one last grand, defying-expectations adventure.
Which is precisely what they, and we by extension, get in hilarity-laced buckets.
It all begins, as every adventurous romp must, with an inspired getaway which sees Angela and Franca setting up the two youngest, and thus ready to fall in love (so they rightly assume), attendants at the home Giuditta (Ilenia Pastorelli) and Guido (Edoardo Pesce).
With these lovebirds otherwise diverted into romantic and, ahem, carnal pleasures – they provide some delightful visual hijinks as the two road trippers make their break – Franca and Angela proceed to hit the town only to find their would-be jaunt to Venezia almost-foiled by thieves.
To the rescue come outrageously-fun gay couple Lulù (Jordi Mollà) and Carmen (Josafat Vagni), dolled up in their cross-dressing finery, who soon, as is the way of film this fun, become an integral part of the women’s lives and thus of the lighthearted though often powerfully introspective plot.
Throw in Franca’s disaffected daughter Giovanna (Lidia Vitale), who is second-guessing every decision she has ever made including remarrying and consigning her mother to a retirement home, and you have the perfect recipe for a tale of dreams-retaken, redemption-found and lives forever altered.
There are, naturally enough, more than a few setbacks along the way but where would a grand adventure be if things didn’t go wrong and you didn’t have to use your considerable nous, and Franca & Angela have it in spades, to figure a way forward.
The ways forward are many and highly-amusing, involving purloined police cars, stolen toilet breaks in a farmer’s field – where the farmer invites everyone to an unforgettable drunken dinner – wall-to-wall news coverage where erroneous assumptions are made and a remembrance of things lost and others newly-found or discovered for the first time.
For all the madcap fun, though and Niente di Serio (literally “nothing too serious”) is resolutely madcap all the way along, Barbo is unafraid to take things to some fairly dark, confronting places.
One morning, for instance, shacked up in their lavish hotel in Pisa courtesy of Angela’s occasional gambling prowess, Angela comes back from shopping for adventure-fabulous outfits only to find Franca, who is a joy from start to finish, able to lie like a fiend when necessary but charming to small children into the bargain, regressed to a grieving widow, desperately begging her beloved Gaspare to return to and rescue her.
It is a deeply-moving scene which once again grounds the two women – Angela is awash in regret for the way her financially-profligate ways have estranged her beloved son from her – as two very real people for whom the romp is more than a piece of cinematic hilarityl it is, in fact, their very last roll of the dice, their one last chance to Carpe Diem the hell out of life.
In every measured, introspective scene, and they sit unexpectedly easily along the most outrageous moments such as shopping trolley ride past the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we bear witness not simply to the very heart of who Franca and Angela are beyond grandmothers and retirement home escapees with the polizia on their tail, but to the salient fact that no one ever stops wants to live, really live.
Age and circumstance may conspire to make the realisation of that driving need to go all out and make the most of life increasingly difficult, if not all but impossible, but that doesn’t mean the person within ceases to dream.
In our misplaced zeal to easily-categorise everyone, we often forget that real people exist behind the archetypes and old people are perhaps the most poorly-serviced by their demographic categorisation, leached of all their individuality, their drive, verve and sense of wicked, fuck-the-consequences fun.
Niente di Serio gives Franca and Angela, who you will fall in love wholly and completely without reservation because their dreams are, in the end, yours too, a voice and sense of self that along with the redemptively uplifting flavour of the rest of the narrative where a disparate group of people become family, invests the film with a beguiling sense that anything is still possible even when you’re at an age where everyone says you should pack the dreams away and slide into banal obscurity.
Not ready to even consider that? Niente di Serio is your film, your inspiration, your soundtrack to silver-edged defiance, a delightfully substantial rebuttal to the idea that age condemns us to nothing but a shadow of our former selves.