What better way to pay homage to a rich cultural heritage than with a compelling film? Road to the Lemon Grove is exactly that kind of movie for Italian Canadians. Its premise will prompt viewers not only to keep their culture alive, but to make it thrive. Directed by Dale Hildebrand and co-authored by Hildebrand and Charly Chiarelli (who also stars in the movie), this heart-warming comedy goes to the soul of what it means to be Italian, and speaks to the Italian immigrant experience in its own unique ways.
In the narrative, an old-world Sicilian father tries to negotiate his way into heaven after he dies. However, God won’t allow the man in until he repairs his relationship with his son and gets his son to reunite two family factions after a bitter fight over a lemon grove. Throughout the film, the audience is reminded of the importance of reconnecting with family roots to better understand who we are. This is demonstrated in particular by the poignant moments between the deceased father, Antonio, and his son Calogero, a linguistics professor.
The comedic yet touching scenes expose the all-too-familiar loss of culture and identity. Yet, Road to the Lemon Grove will resonate with audiences that are sensitive to their own stories of immigration, unresolved family issues, and love found in unexpected places.
While it is often the stories about the pain of discrimination that new immigrants relate, Hildebrand turns these into gentle comedic moments – for example, when young Calogero, played by Tomaso Sanelli, reads “workmen’s compensation board” as “workmen’s constipation board.” Alongside the comedy, Hildebrand incorporates concerns familiar to new immigrant families: parents’ fears that their children will lose their language and culture, and the struggle to understand children who adopt the culture of their new home. Throughout the movie, no matter how long ago someone immigrated, everyone continues to gather and tell stories over home-cooked pasta and red wine – all flavoured by memories of the “old country.”
The dialogue in the film is generously sprinkled with Italian phrases, and at times subtitles are used to ensure that English-speaking audiences are not left out of the conversation. The use of Italian dialogue is a testament to the endurance of the language among Italian-Canadians, despite the arrival to Canada of many as far back as the 1940s and 1950s.
No movie is complete without a love interest, and this movie actually has three: the love of a father and son; the love of country; and Calogero’s unrequited love for the famous Maria Miosogno, played by the real-world Italian radio and TV personality, model, dancer and celebrity Rossella Brescia. Besides Charly Chiarelli (called the “Sicilian Spalding Grey” by the Edmonton Journal) who plays the dual role of Antonio and Calogero, the movie stars Burt Young (of Rocky fame), Nick Mancuso (Ticket to Heaven), multi-platinum recording artist Loreena McKennitt, and Tomaso Sanelli (Titans).
Road to the Lemon Grove won the Cirs Award for “Best in Cultural and Social Achievement in Sicily” at the Taormina Film Festival, awards for “Best in Italian-Canadian Cinema” and “Excellence in Performance” at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival, and as “Best Comedy Feature” at the Edmonton International Film Festival. It opens in 16 cities across Canada on Labour Day weekend. Check local listings.