Directed by Mehdi Avaz | Written by Avaz and Nikolaj Scherfig | 90 min | ▲▲△△△ | Netflix
22 years ago Danish dogme director Lone Scherfig brought to the world the charming romantic drama Italian For Beginners, which romanticized Italy all out of proportion from a Scandinavian perspective. It was a charmer, though. Now we have another Danish picture, co-scripted by Scherfig’s cousin, Nikolaj, that once again visits Italy. This one’s not nearly the tiny triumph of that earlier film, not even close.
It concerns an unhappy Danish chef, Theo (Anders Matthesen), whose Copenhagen fine- dining dream is in tatters because he needs an investment that he sabotages with his anger and perfectionism. His estranged father dies in Pelago, Tuscany, leaving him an old building and a cafe. He figures he’ll go down, sell the property, and take the money to help build his eatery.
Of course, that’s when things get complicated. Handsome local lawyer, Pino (Andrea Bosca), helps set up the sale, but Theo gets to know Pino’s fiancé, Sophia (Cristiana Dell’Anna), who is deeply invested in the property and was close with Theo’s departed dad.
Naturally they have a conflict to start, but as Sophia’s wedding approaches Theo insists on helping with the food — which will impress a possible buyer. Sophia thinks he’s doing it for her.
Toscana suffers from an identity crisis. It has the bones of a romcom and through the first act the script lays it all out nicely — the characters, the obstacles, the gorgeous setting, even a lovely tandem vespa ride — but the laughs never come.
Instead of an awkward, completely unlikely romantic liaison between a man and woman who are connected by an absent father-figure, the movie doubles down on the adult grief of a man who felt abandoned when he was a child. And it fails to make us care about that. We almost care about Theo and Sophia, but never really about Theo and his father.
It’s a crisis in the script the film never recovers from — and it doesn’t help that the director seems entirely absent the lightness of touch the material requires. Instead we get a white-man drama weighed down by self pity and soaped up with an overly insistent score and too much handheld camera.
It’s no fault of the performers, who are all likeable enough. While I never really believed Theo and Sophia would hook up, not with the hunky Pino on the scene, I was looking forward to the picture trying to convince me of the potential magic of their connection.
In the meantime we’re served a melancholy repast of food porn, summery scenery, and the oddness of an English/Danish/Italian language film. It could have been a lot more.