The Festival blurb for the film said:
Two forty-something married couples head to the sunny Italian coast for the perfect holiday destination. A large spacious house, with a golden sand beach on the doorstep, awaits. Diego and Shary are enjoying the ‘empty nest’ quiet life, while Matteo and Francesca’s relationship appears serene and calm. Small squabbles are put aside with the arrival of Diego and Shary’s young and buff son, David, a model of sumptuous beauty. It soon becomes apparent that Matteo – whilst clearly passionate with his wife – has one eye on his friends' son.Even without reading the blurb, it is obvious as the film progresses that it is not going to end well, even though how it actually ends is still a shock.
In the long tradition of quality European cinema, David’s Birthday is pitch perfect with its nuanced plot, understated dialogue and dramatic tension. As Matteo’s internal life unravels, cleverly hinted at through scenes of him treating a patient in his job as a psychoanalyst, the film takes on shards of Death In Venice (1971) and American Beauty (1999). Against the operatic score of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, David’s Birthday delivers perhaps cinema history’s most tensely crafted climax. Even if you know it’s coming, it’s nail-biting stuff all the same.
The characters are flawed, but vivid: except for David himself who is essentially an amiable beauty and so a more bland character than the rest. Because of my personal history, I am deeply suspicious of youthful beauty (and the attraction to it), so perhaps the story did not resonate with me as it might. I was also left with a "well, what happens next?" reaction. There were some wittily funny moments, the film held your interest and one cannot deny the power of the final performances but the ambiguity and uncertainty of my reaction to the film ultimately flows from it not engaging the viewer in the central characters as it needed to.