As far as opening title cards go, there are few that are quite as immediately attention grabbing as “For the piece of shit, my father”. This deadpan introduction to the feature debut of director Cesare Furesi may suggest a more cynical tale of a family relationship, but Who Will Save the Roses? (Chi salverà le rose?) is anything but. Sure, it portrays the relationship of a mismatched, dysfunctional family in the midst of a crisis – but it does so with an overarching sentimentality that’s very likely to leave audiences feeling moved.
Carlo Delle Piane stars as Giulio, an elderly man caring for his bedridden partner Claudio (Lando Buzzanca). He’d previously had a career as a lawyer, but gave it all up to play poker full time – which has led to crippling debts, firing all of the house servants and selling most items in the house to get close to making ends meet. Claudio is still unaware of this, being confined to his room, but Giulio is struggling to fulfil all the tasks in the house due to advancing age. Citing Giulio’s health problems, he calls his daughter Valeria (Antonio Careddu), and her son Marco (Antonio Careddu) to come immediately – and their rocky relationship is put through further tests as they help run the house together.
Director Cesare Furesi is a native of Sardinia Island, and as a result has managed to capture it in all its beauty, from the sun kissed seaside destinations to the quainter rural charms off the beaten track. Just capturing the grandeur of Sardinia is enough to make it feel like cinematic comfort food, but when coupled with a touching romantic comedy-drama about an elderly couple, if often feels like the continental equivalent of a Nancy Meyers film. Her reputation in Hollywood has been built upon creating romantic leading vehicles for ageing movie stars, but Furesi adds notable twists to many of her familiar tropes. Sure, the action unfolds in glamorous locations where viewers will likely never be able to afford to live – but the characters are also struggling to afford getting by there, replacing all the furniture in the house with cardboard in order to maintain the illusion of a lavish lifestyle. It’s a world removed from the fantasies presented by Nancy Meyers in a film like It’s Complicated, where she asks us to believe Meryl Streep would be able to afford a gigantic house from a career as a chef.
The film loses its way somewhat in the second half, as the intimate family drama is replaced with a convoluted poker tournament that detracts from the quieter emotional charms. Luckily, Carlo Delle Piane’s performance, nominated for an Italian Golden Globe, manages to keep the film grounded; the desperation to pay off his debts may be played for laughs (but not without an overbearing facial tone the premise suggests it would have), but the actor refuses to let this become a comedy performance. Instead, the events we see during the earlier stages don’t feel particularly life changing, appearing more like the snapshot of a regular day in the life of a man caring for his bedridden partner. Claudio’s illness is also shown devoid of dramatic cliche – the film wants to pull on your heartstrings based on their relationship, not because of the pain the pair are soldiering on through.
But despite some of the storytelling missteps, there is something undeniably moving about Who Will Save the Roses? (Chi salverà le rose?) that comes with a lot of charm – and, I suspect, a premise ripe enough for an American remake.