Gandolfi: Family Business


Reviewed by: Claire Sawers

Doddering about Bournemouth with walking sticks, stopping to talk to white-permed old ladies on the boardwalk, Arthur and Fred look like ordinary pensioners on their summer holidays. Apart from the fact that they are being followed by a film crew, these elderly gentlemen are a bit special. They happen to be none other than the Gandolfi brothers, famous in the photography industry for making the creme de la creme of specialist cameras, lovingly and skilfully handcrafted in wood.

This film follows the brothers on their seaside break and also looks back over their lives, up until the moment when they sold their prestigious business, set up by father Louis.

Filmed entirely in the early Eighties, this is as much a profile of the Gandolfis as it is a nostalgic look back at England in the days when shopkeepers remembered your name and neighbours knew your every move, a time when people drank tea with a cup and saucer and craftsmen painstakingly spent hours over a piece of wood rather than stocking up on something disposable and mass produced.

The sunshine-filled scenes of tea rooms and bed-and-breakfast establishments provide a welcome flash of colour into an otherwise drab piece. Too many poorly lit scenes inside London workshops and warehouses bring a gloomy atmosphere to the film, not helped by the incredibly slow pace.

As close-ups of forklift trucks blend into more shots of Fred planing down and varnishing pieces of wood on his work bench, the documentary starts seeming a lot like an educational school video from the Seventies, only with less information.

Thankfully, Fred and Arthur are fascinating to watch. With their shaky grandpa voices and Peckham accents, these fragile old men more than compensate for the rest of the badly edited irrelevances.

Fred is the serious one, the businessman behind the company.

"When I work I don't exist," he notes casually, as if describing a favourite sandwich filling. "I find I become more or less mechanical. I dissolve into the job."

Arthur, on the other hand, who is unmarried like his brother, is far more chatty and, in some scenes, as simple as a five-year-old.

"They're filming me," he says with pride, as he passes a woman in her front garden. "I'm supposed to be going to work here."

Although we sense that the brothers have never really cared too much for each other, their relationship is never explored in any detail. We do not find out what makes them tick, if in fact anything does, beyond the business of making fancy cameras.

Their devotion to their metier, no matter how laborious and tedious it may seem at times, is touching. It seems a pity that the film's lack of structure does not do them justice. Too much dreary fact and lengthy footage detracts from what is otherwise a unique human interest story.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2004
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Two elderly brothers who have spent over 60 years making handcrafted cameras talk about their lives.

Director: Ken Griffiths, David Griffiths

Writer: Laurie Lewis

Starring: Fred Gandolfi, Arthur Gandolfi

Year: 2002

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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