Searching for Paradise

Institute History


On the day that twenty-two-year old Gilda Mattei graduates from college, her father, Giorgio, is sick to his stomach. A week later he discovers he has cancer. Back home in Boston, Gilda and her mother, Barbara, nurse him through a brief and consuming illness. An aspiring documentary maker, Gilda films the final days of her big-hearted, strong-tempered, Italian dad – to somehow capture his huge spirit with her small camera. Nine months later, he dies. Through humor and poignancy, Gilda will learn the truth about him, her family, and the enigmatic bonds of love.

Gilda is bereft. When Barbara travels to Italy to grieve with Giorgio’s family, Gilda stays home to put affairs in order. As she cleans up her father’s papers in the office, she comes upon a letter from a woman. An Italian woman. It is a love letter. Giorgio had been carrying on an affair. Gilda reels from the discovery. She questions everything – the home she knew, the bedrock she trusted, even her father’s essential nature. How could this man whom she adored so completely have been so duplicitous? Did she know him at all?

When her maternal grandmother calls from San Diego to check on her, Gilda seizes this as a way out of her confusion and pain. She gets on a plane to the coast to help celebrate her grandfather’s 80th birthday. The WASP world of her mother’s family could not be more different from the dynamic passions of Giorgio. Surrounded by their microwave dinners and cocktail parties, Gilda tries to fit in, but her grandparents’ emotional disconnection causes Gilda to drift deeper and deeper into her own fantasies.

Racked by dreams and memories of her father, Gilda immerses herself in television and movies. When she meets a graduate student of her grandfather’s who is interested in her, she is unable to return his attention. Her mind is elsewhere; she has pinned her hopes on a well-known Italian-American movie star, Michael De Santis. Gilda has replaced Giorgio with yet another illusion.

When Gilda discovers that De Santis is shooting a new film up the coast from her grandparents, she decides that this is her moment. She sets off on a trip north to secure a position on the film. Failing that, she uses all her resources to get onto the set to meet him. She does. To her surprise, De Santis is both exactly what she hopes for and nothing of the kind… just like her father.

After a disturbing and eye-opening collision with the truth, Gilda returns home for a final encounter with Barbara. But when she confronts her mother with what she expects will be a devastating revelation about Giorgio’s infidelity, Gilda is surprised again – not just by what her mother knows about the affair, but about marriage, family, and the nature of love.


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