CHENNAI: Francesco Amato’s Italian-language film “18 Presents” (“18 Regali”) might not quite be the mood-lifter many of us are looking for during the dark and uncertain times of the pandemic. But the story is one of hope in which a headstrong young woman, Anna (Benedetta Porcaroli), learns to cope with the untimely death of her mother Elisa (Vittoria Puccini) at age 40.
There is much more to this film beyond the grieving, such as the familiar theme of mother-daughter conflict — only here the older woman has been absent for nearly all her daughter’s life. In what appears as genuine parental love and affection, Elisa makes plans to be a part of her daughter’s life once she is gone, but the film also underscores teenage rebellion and the sometimes yawning gap between what parents think is best for their child, and a child’s own hopes and dreams.
In Amato’s work, this rift is embodied in the series of gifts that Elisa leaves behind for her daughter after her death. We might expect Anna to find some solace in this, but that is not the case. Elisa, who dies from a terminal illness soon after giving birth, plans a carefully thought-out gift for each of her daughter’s birthdays. This does not sit well with Anna, who finds that the presents are a repeated reminder of tragedy, turning every birthday into a time of remorse and regret. Anna’s father Alessio (Edoardo Leo) is at a loss as he watches his daughter grow increasingly resentful until she finally storms out of their home on her 18th birthday.
Throughout the narrative, “18 Presents” slips into fantasy. When Anna is hit by a car and regains consciousness, she finds not only that she is in the company of her dead mother, but that she has also traveled back in time — to three months before her birth. While some viewers may take longer than others to piece together the plot here, what is unmistakably gripping is Elisa’s motherly selflessness. Despite her own struggle, we see her thoughtfully planning the gifts for Anna’s birthdays — days she will never be a part of.
Angst and tears are driven by this unusual mother-daughter relationship and chemistry in the latter part of the film, reinforcing the narrative of a parent wanting what is best for their child. Anna’s frustration with her father also comes to a head when he seems oblivious to the fact that her mother’s gifts bring up such unhappy feelings for a parent she cannot remember seeing in person. In the end, “18 Presents” is hampered by its believability, and the pace could use some improvement. But while some holes are left lingering in the plot in the film’s attempt to turn back the clock, its heart-warming core message of love still shines through.