ROME -- "18 Years Later" is a decade-long labor of love for actor and first-time director Edoardo Leo and his co-star and co-writer Marco Bonini (fresh off of French mega-hit "Camping 2").
Though it breaks no new ground in the family drama/road movie genre, the film has a gentle charm that grows as the story weaves towards a satisfyingly cathartic but not cutesy ending.
Winner of a special mention at the Rome Independent Film Festival, "18 Years Later" has been acquired by FremantleMedia, who will handle world sales. Already on its way to festivals worldwide, this intimate-but- universal story with art house appeal will serve the filmmakers well as a calling card for future projects. A remake may also be in the works with the potential U.K. distributor.
Brothers Mirko (Leo) and Genziano (Bonini) haven't spoken or seen each other since their mother died in a car accident when they were teenagers. Soon after, Genziano moved to London and became a successful stockbroker while the stuttering, insecure Mirko stayed to work as a mechanic in the family-run garage.
Eighteen years later, Genziano returns to Rome, for 24 hours, for their father's funeral only to discover that the man's dying wish was to have his ashes laid by his wife's grave, in Calabria. Which means his sons must make the trip to southern Italy in the antique Morgan in which their mother died, which he painstakingly and secretly rebuilt over time.
Mirko convinces his brother to take the trip. Naturally complications arise: The phone-addicted Genziano risks losing an important client, the brothers pick up a flighty hitchhiker (Eugenia Costantini) and, of course, the car breaks down. All the while the brothers only allude to their problems while their maternal grandfather (Gabriele Ferzetti) reveals the painful past to Leo's wife (Sabrina Impacciatore) in an interwoven subplot.
Bouncy music -- a blend of folk, Balkan and circus melody -- adds a light touch throughout a journey that smartly avoids being a postcard expedition through Italy. Nevertheless, the film takes a while to settle into its groove. In the first half, Mirko is too pathetic too often while Genziano is too much the straight man.
A middle segment, in which the brothers get picked up hitchhiking by a series of over-the-top characters, provides less comic relief than the shifting relationship between Mirko and Genziano.
Luckily, as the story and characters develop, so too Leo and Bonini relax into a more convincing, restrained chemistry, the script and Leo's direction pulling them back from pathos whenever they venture too close to the edge. The final, inevitable confrontation is well-played and genuinely moving. The last scene is a pearl that playfully wraps things up without imparting facile life lessons.