If Only Movie Review: Ginerva Elkann’s debut is a heartwarming portrait of childhood and family
A dreamy film that thrives on nostalgia, If Only feels like a journey back to childhood when life was a lucid, joyous dream
If Only (originally titled Magari in Italian), Ginevra Elkann’s debut with autobiographical touches, is a happy film about an unhappy family. The intimate and delicate gaze of Elkann’s film is rewardingly fresh with the innocence of childhood. The film opens in a mass at an Orthodox Church in Paris; the atmosphere is solemn. The voice-over of Alma, the nine-year-old protagonist, cuts in: “Croissant, raisin bread, chocolate cake…” She has been hungry since the previous night’s fast. This blend of irreverence and naivete that wins your heart is a recurring feature in this film. The film feels like a return home, a journey back to your childhood when life seemed like a joyous dream, despite the lows.
Directed by: Ginevra Elkann
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Riccardo Scamarcio, Milo Roussel, Ettorne Giustiniani, Oro De Commarque
Streaming on: Mubi
If Only that chooses to focus on the happier times, aches with longing and hope. Alma’s greatest dream is the reunion of her broken family after her parents’ divorce. The three children, Alma and her brothers Jean and Seb, are the heart of this film, as they are shown vacationing with their father, and his girlfriend Benny in a coastal Italian town. The usual, enjoyable precociousness we spot in children in cinema, can be seen in Alma too. It doesn’t feel far-fetched here though. The child talks of artistic despair, but it is because she learnt about Van Gogh in school. Oro De Commarque is charming as Alma, especially in those portions when she gets attracted to an older boy, Marco. Her fourteen-year old brother, Seb, too goes through something similar when he realises he has feelings for his father’s girlfriend, Benny. After seeing her naked, he goes into his room, not looking embarrassed, but with a naïve, rapturous smile. This film, with such moments, would perhaps have been more effective as a coming-of-age tale had it followed the journeys of all three siblings instead of its focus on one. After all, it is Seb who drives the drama in the melancholic finale of the film.
As with films that are about childhood nostalgia, If Only does not delve much into the complexities of the adult world. Though it begins with Alma’s voice-over, it wanes out in time and you see elaborate scenes she is not part of. Such narrative inconsistencies mar this film.
After a final act teeming with chaos and anguish, all becomes well by the seaside, though separation looms. Yet, during this transient moment, Alma’s dream gets fulfilled. For a few moments, they are once again a family at peace, happily dining together. If only this moment would, if only life wouldn’t intervene. If only…