Edoardo Ballerini’s magnetic performance draws out the beauty and darkness of places and people in Return to Valetto (9 hours), Dominic Smith’s elegant multigenerational family saga set in the splendor of the Italian countryside.
After a two-year absence from Europe, where he studied Italy’s vanishing villages and towns, writer and historian Hugh Fisher returns to Valetto, Italy, for six months. This time, he’s focusing on family matters: namely visiting his aunts and 99-year-old grandmother and tending to the cottage left to him by his late mother, who died a year earlier. With an impeccable Italian accent, Ballerini portrays the tense dynamics as family members bicker over the cottage. After a squatter claims Fisher’s grandfather left it to her family in exchange for sheltering him during World War II, Ballerini’s adroit narration conveys subtle changes in the family that occur as the ensuing investigations unearth troubling secrets involving Hugh’s mother. The smooth effortlessness of Ballerini’s narration immerses readers in this tumultuous family history set against the backdrop of Valetto’s changing landscape.