Patrick (Benjamin Schwinn) shoves two arms full of snacks in the open window of an old Renault that definitely won’t be passing inspection (if it even arrives to its appointment on-time) and kisses Diana (Sara Summa) goodbye as she, her brother (Robin Summa’s Arthur), and her son (Lupo Piero Summa’s Lupo) ride away to Paris from Berlin. It’s an authentic introduction to the entertaining mundanity of fulfilling an obligation these siblings feel to their now-deceased father. This was the car from their childhood––perhaps ensuring it can live on will help them move forward past their own petty grievances with each other.
Written and directed by Sara Summa as an auto-fictional road trip with her real-life brother, Arthur&Diana sees the pair together for what might be the longest time in years––ever since Diana left home to start her life in Berlin, leaving Arthur in Paris to care for their ailing father. He holds a grudge. She can’t stop herself from adopting the role of judgmental big sister whenever they meet. And it only takes a minor quibble for them both to blow-up and start screaming while little Lupo wonders what’s happening. Both are quick to apologize, even quicker to ignite.
As such, we glean stories about the two and their attitudes while simply enjoying the tumult of siblings being locked in a tight space without “adult” supervision. The two have a wonderful rapport and exude love even when at each other’s throats, but it’s their wry, knowing smiles that proves most effective. There’s ample opportunity to flash them too once this straightforward adventure starts becoming more complicated and crowded with hitchhikers, police officers, old flames, and Mom––or, as she now prefers to be called, as a woman looking only towards living the rest of her life, Betty.
The additional characters add welcome spice to the otherwise-familiar arguments about food and subjective memory. Livia Antonelli’s Zora is a young woman who Arthur fancies and might be exploiting their car as a mule for stolen goods. Ugo Fiore’s Mathieu is, conversely, an ex that Diana has never stopped fancying despite her constant calls home to Patrick proving she’s fully committed to him. Wine and dancing have a way of letting the evenings get away from both siblings in a “what happens on the road stays on the road” type of way, though. And it’s all natural enough to never think about passing judgment ourselves.
Shot with a mix of MiniDV, Betacam, and 16mm, Arthur&Diana‘s grainy picture provides a beautiful sense of home movies, especially with multiple interludes of montages or long shots while the characters talk above them. Not that this is a tourist trip by any means––there’s an unexpected Italian tragedy in their future, but also Arthur’s desire to go on a treasure hunt for the “Golden Owl.” (So maybe it is after all.) Existing in that middle ground only adds to the appeal: the playful nature of its leads’ dynamic conjures memories of our own family outings. If the result may seem somewhat slight, it resonates nonetheless.
Arthur&Diana premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.