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Review by Hamilton Spectator Newspaper

ROAD TO THE LEMON GROVE: 2019 | Mahoney, Jeff. Review, "Charly Chiarelli's amazing road movie brings it home, both to Hamilton and Sicily, The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton, ON, August 28, 2019.

Charly Chiarelli's amazing road movie brings it home, both to Hamilton and Sicily. Chiarelli and director Dale Hildebrand fashion a terrific movie out of some fertile Sicilian-Canadian materials in "Road To The Lemon Grove." By Jeff Mahoney of the Spectator Reporter The Hamilton Spectator - Wed., Aug. 28, 2019. update on Article was updated Mar. 02, 2020.

Starting Friday (Aug. 30), Charly Chiarelli will take Canadian moviegoers for a ride on the new road he's opened, the one to the lemon grove, a passage blazed between several distances and divides.

A son's generation and his father's, for instance; the separateness of life and death; the gap between one culture and another; old and new; Canada and Sicily; strangeness and familiarity.

As with all the best roads, the bumpier the funnier, and we come to realize that destination and starting point have somehow collapsed into each other, both mutually enriched in the process.

All roads, after all, lead to home and, if not exactly Rome, then Racalmuto.

Charly Chiarelli's "Road To The Lemon Grove" is coming to Cineplex Hamilton Mountain on Friday, Aug. 30. | John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator.

And "Road To The Lemon Grove," his first feature length film, is planting Chiarelli firmly in Hamilton, whose north-end Racalmutese community and their immigrant culture, mingled with the maple, have so shaped and inspired him as a Sicilian-Canadian.

The film, starring Chiarelli as well as Burt Young ("Rocky") and Nick Mancuso ("Ticket To Heaven"), opens commercially Friday in 17 cinemas in Canada (from Vancouver to Montreal). It has already won several awards after screenings at international festivals over the last months, including an outstanding performance award for Chiarelli at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF).

"I had so many invitations - from Edmonton and Vancouver and so on - to be at the opening night," says Chiarelli, referring to the premire of the commercial release.

But the Hamilton choice was a bit of a no-brainer, as they say. For one thing he lives in Hamilton, sharing his time between here and Kingston. Plus, he jokes, "my brothers are big guys." If he weren't in Hamilton for the big night, they'd be mighty displeased, as would his sister. And, most to the point, the film is rooted in Chiarelli's Hamilton.

"The road to the lemon grove starts right here," he says of his city.


At the Cineplex Cinemas, Hamilton Mountain, Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight, Chiarelli will be in a room where moviegoers can visit, ask questions, talk about "Road" and allow him to show his appreciation for them attending.

For Chiarelli, 70, the movie represents an opportunity so ideal it seems almost to have been hallucinated into being. Not only does "Road To The Lemon Grove" raise the arc of Chiarelli's career and transfer his talents from the stage to the big screen, it does so spectacularly.

There is beautiful location shooting in Sicily, and there are many effects (some of which allow Chiarelli to be on the screen with himself as he plays three different roles), and big name co-stars like Young and Mancuso.

There's more. The female lead is Rosella Brescia, famous prima ballerina and screen star in Italy.

And Loreena McKennitt, the acclaimed Celtic singer, is featured as the voice of, well, God herself.

This, says Charly, is thanks to the efforts of the inimitable Dale Hildebrand, who is director and producer as well as co-writer. So it's a bit of a misnomer to call this Chiarelli's film. It's as much Hildebrand's.

But the story grew out of Chiarelli's oeuvre, if we can use a fancy word but one which happens to apply. Plays like "Cu'Fu," "Mangiacake" and "Sunamabeach" (all brought along by director Ronald Weihs of Hamilton's Artword Artbar), plays which draw on the language, music, humour and passion of Chiarelli's Racalmutese/Hamiltonian roots.

"Road To The Lemon Grove," in that comic vein, tells the story of Calogero, a North American of Sicilian descent, whose father Antonio dies (as in "Cu'Fu," the death of a father is a prominent theme) but before Antonio can get into heaven, God (McKennitt) tells him he must repair his relationship with his son and get his son to settle a feud between two families in Sicily.

So Calogero, a linguist, finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a conflict thousands of miles away, above and beyond which he has to scatter his father's ashes over a disputed Sicilian lemon grove.

Naturally, hilarity ensues and so does a love story.

Chiarelli, with the aid of makeup and special effects, plays both son Calogero and father Antonio (as both an old and young man) as well as a mystery woman, and Tomaso Sanelli ("Titans") plays Calogero as a boy.

"We made Calogero a linguist to underscore the loss of languages and dialects, and the loss of identity that results from that," says Chiarelli, who has a master's degree in social work. "We use the Racalutese language in the film."

Related to that theme is the gulf between generations that can open up when first arrival immigrants, who might come with backgrounds like farming, have children with PhDs and careers in the professions. But it also means they can "open up new realities," to each other.

In the movie, it is one of the father's great hopes for his son that he correct a lack in his life. "He (Calogero) has never touched the earth."

"Road To The Lemon Grove," some three years in the making, grew out of Hildebrand interviewing Chiarelli in a documentary the former made about Italian immigration in Canada.

It is a movie, says Chiarelli, an accomplished harmonica player, in which "love abounds." Love, in all its meanings, including reconciliation and appreciation for the sacrifice of ancestors and, not least, love of music, which is featured prominently in the movie, including from Hamilton's Rita Chiarelli and The Acoustics.

Awards for 'The Road to the Lemon Grove' * Cirs Award at the Taormina Film Festival (Sicily) for Best in Cultural and Social Achievement

* Best in Italian-Canadian Cinema at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival; the Excellence in Performance Award at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival.

* Best Comedy Feature at Edmonton International Film Festival.

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