When a sceptical, culturally-confused art restorationist receives a surprise visit and news from his manipulative ex-girlfriend, he reluctantly agrees to join her on a road trip across Italy to meet his estranged and dying father, a spiritual guru for Swiss bankers.
Dev Robinson was raised by his single British mother in a small commune in India. As a teenager, he began to suspect that his mother’s guru, a Sri Lankan man living in Switzerland, was his father. He regularly heard his mother listening to the audio recordings of the guru, which he found both trite and irritating.
Dev left the commune as soon as he was old enough, and while studying art restoration in Italy, he fell in love with Miriam, an anxious and manipulative Neapolitan psychologist. For five years, the couple shared a tumultuous relationship, which ended when Dev abruptly disappeared, leaving his entire Italian life and career behind.
Having kept Dev’s phone contract, five years after his disappearance, Miriam receives a phone call from the lawyer of Anish Shantha, Dev’s estranged father. Anish is a former banker turned guru, whose spiritual teachings were bankrolled by his financier boss, and whose immaculate Swiss ashram and public relations campaigns are overseen by the daughter of his former boss, Maria Bordier-Metzler.
Unknown to Maria and the ashram team, Anish changed his legal directives and listed Dev as his only emergency contact, giving him the power of attorney in life and death situations. After collapsing while on a European speaking tour and falling in and out of consciousness, his lawyer phones the only number she has for Dev, as she needs him to make a decision about a potentially risky surgical procedure.
Upon receiving the call, Miriam sets about locating Dev, eventually discovering a museum employing him in Croatia. Unable to find further contact details and wanting her own closure from his disappearance five years earlier, Miriam takes a ferry to Croatia and surprises Dev at work. In turn, she is likewise shocked to discover that he is both married and has a four-and-a-half-year-old son.
After sharing the news about his father, Dev insists that he wants nothing to do with the situation, though Miriam presses him until he finally agrees to visit Anish. After journeying together to the Italian hospital where Anish is being kept, Miriam and Dev meet Maria and other members of the ashram team, who try to pressure Dev into signing the legal directives over to Maria. After speaking with Anish for the first time since childhood, Dev decides to seek a second opinion and remove Anish from the hospital, against the wishes of his ashram.
Miriam and Dev set about stealing Anish from the hospital, and thus, begin what becomes a road trip across Italy, dodging intrusive journalists, holding spontaneous group meditations at gas stations and visiting not only medical doctors, but the seaside, spiritual centres and sacred caves. The journey across the vast and varying landscapes mirror the interior journeys each takes, as they struggle to come to terms with their pasts.
In confronting her role in the accidental death of her father, Miriam helps Dev to reconcile with Anish and forgive his choices not to raise him as a son and to instead to hide him and his mother away in India. Anish begins to clearly understand what he missed in attempting to lead a spiritual life for other people, and he enjoys what become the final days of his life with Dev. Dev and Miriam also finally have the conversation they needed for closure.
Dev is a sceptical, culturally-confused art restorationist, who was raised by his British mother, Claire, in a small commune in India. Though he initially believed that he was half-Indian, he later learned that he is half-Sri Lankan. As a child, Dev did not know the nature of his paternity, but as a teenager, he began to suspect that Anish Shantha, a rich and famous Sri Lankan guru in Europe, might be his father. Claire was an avid devotee of Shantha and regularly listened to tape recordings of his teachings, which Dev found largely irritating and trite. There were also photos of Shantha on her altar, in which Dev saw a resemblance.
In general, Dev disavows religious and spiritual teachings, and as a result, he has a complicated relationship with his mother and the members of the commune, both loving them and often finding them foolish. Nonetheless, throughout his childhood, Dev possessed an interest in art, which was bolstered by the commune members encouraging him.
In his early twenties, after his mother confirmed his suspicions about his paternity, Dev left the commune and tried to make a living as an artist in India, but was largely unsuccessful. At 25, he moved to Italy to study art conservation and restoration in Florence at an International School, where he lived for four years. His mother believed he moved to Europe to subconsciously be nearer his father. After beginning work on a project in Pompei (at 29), he met Miriam, a captivating and strong-willed Neapolitan psychologist. They spent five years together as a couple, though the relationship was tumultuous, due to Miriam’s persistent anxiety and need to control everything and Dev’s inability to maintain a long-term emotional commitment.
Though Dev loved Miriam, at age 34, he learned that he had impregnated a young woman, Adriana, with whom he had a fling. Not wanting to be like his father, he decided to move to Croatia with Adriana and the baby, to her hometown on the island of Mali Losinj, where he began working for a local museum. Dev continues to struggle to maintain a happy, healthy relationship due to seemingly deep-seeded issues related to his father.
When Miriam suddenly reappears in his life with news of his estranged father’s terminal illness, he reluctantly agrees to join her in finally meeting Anish. After meeting his father, the trio set out on a road trip across Italy, which forces Dev to confront the pain he felt throughout his life over not knowing his father and the ways that pain manifested in his relationships. On the physical journey, which mirrors the interior journey he must make, he learns to forgive and accept his father, as well as himself.
Miriam is an attractive and smart psychologist from Napoli, who suffers from anxiety and tries to control situations because of lingering guilt she experiences over her father’s death when she was 13. The two were in a pedal boat at sea and had a fight over her burgeoning interest in boys, at which time, she threw her Catholic tau necklace into the water. The necklace floated away, and her father tried to peddle towards it, though she blocked the pedals with her feet. Her father angrily dove into the water and swam to the necklace, at which point he had a seizure and drowned. Miriam helplessly watched as his body floated on the surface.
Her father’s hand held tightly to the necklace even after he died. Miriam had to pedal to the body and drag it with her as she pedalled back to shore. Miriam kept the necklace and we see it throughout the film hanging from the rear-view mirror of her car. Miriam never disclosed to anyone that she had thrown the necklace into the sea.
Miriam met Dev Robinson in Pompei and had a tumultuous five-year relationship with him. She loved him very much and was devastated when he suddenly disappeared. She kept his phone number as a way to stay connected to him, though she convinced herself that it was due to a cheaper phone contract.
Miriam is stuck in her life, working as a company psychologist, and her closest friend, Eni, seems to be one of her few sources of comfort and entertainment.
One day, she receives a phone call informing her that Dev’s estranged father, Anish, a famous spiritual guru for Swiss bankers, collapsed while on a European speaking tour. She sets about locating Dev, who she finds in Croatia, and she convinces him to fulfil his legal obligations to direct his father’s medical care.
After meeting Anish, the pair steal him from the hospital, away from his meddling ashram members and nosey journalists. They set out on a journey across Italy, in which Miriam is forced to confront her painful past as she helps Dev and Anish to reconnect.
Anish was born in Sri Lanka in 1939. He lived a normal life, though as a Tamil in Sri Lanka, at the time, he experienced occasional adversity. He often did what was expected of him, and as a result, he became a banker; however, he shunned continued pressure from his family to marry.
Anish left Sri Lanka in 1965 due to continued political tensions, as well as an offer from his bank to work in Zurich. His charisma and talent for sales made him one of the best agents in Zurich within months of his arrival.
Paradoxically, Anish was very religious, spending most of his free time reading spiritual books or practicing meditation. While advising on investments, clients and colleagues began to ask him more personal questions. He worked at the bank in Zurich for 5-6 years, and at this time, he developed a group of followers during his lunchtime meditations. They called him the 'café guru' because of the crowds that frequently formed around him. Eventually, the chairman of his bank (August Metzler, born in 1905) began to seek his personal counsel. After becoming convinced of Anish’s spiritual qualities, Metzler insisted that Anish no longer work for the bank, but help people on their spiritual and personal journeys. As a result, Metzler not only gave up his top seller, but he financed an entire ashram for him outside of Zurich. Metzler’s daughter, Maria Bordier-Metzler (born in 1949), continued to manage the ashram after the death of her father.
Anish had no desire to become a guru, though his followers transformed him into one. Eventually, his followers ‘took over his life’, and it seems as if he continues a pattern of living life in the ways that expected of him.
In the mid-1980s, Anish fell in love with a young devotee, Claire Robinson. The main team at the ashram, led by Maria Bordier-Metzler, was deeply against the relationship and insisted that they keep it hidden. When Claire became pregnant with Dev, the team organised for her to be sent to a commune in India, agreeing to pay for their livelihoods as long as she stayed away from Anish. Anish reluctantly agreed to the plan, though brought Claire and Dev to Lake Como for a holiday when Dev was a very small child. It was the only time that the two had ever met. His favourite memory from this period was sitting on the roof of their rental car and watching stars with his young son.
Unknown to his ashram board members, he changed his legal directives and listed Dev as the only person with the power of attorney to make life and death decisions for him. He hoped that by doing this, fate would see to it that the two met again.
His plan worked and after he collapsed on a speaking tour in Europe, Dev was summoned to the hospital. From there, he has Dev sneak him out of the hospital and the two, accompanied by Dev’s ex-girlfriend, set out on a journey across Italy—to other hospitals, spiritual centres, and sacred caves. At a well-known spiritual centre, Anish is still unable to admit publicly to fathering Dev, further straining their relationship. Only in the last days of his life, as Dev physically cares for Anish like a father would care for a son (reversing their roles), do the two reconcile the decades of pain caused by their separation.
Claire is a young, British spiritual seeker, who follows the teachings of Anish Shantha. In 1984, she travels to his ashram outside of Zurich to live and study. There, she develops a romantic and sexual relationship with Anish. His closest confidants try to dissuade him from the relationship, but when it carries on, they insist to him that the relationship must be kept a secret for PR reasons.
When Claire later becomes pregnant with Dev, she wants to marry Anish, but the ashram team makes it clear that the ashram and his teachings will be in jeopardy as a result of the pregnancy. Claire, gullible and still a devotee, wants Anish’s teachings and work to continue. She does not want to return to the UK, so the ashram coordinates with contacts in India and a then-pregnant Claire travels to India, where she gives birth and raises Dev in a small commune. The ashram quietly pays for Dev’s upbringing in exchange for her silence.
Maria was born in Switzerland in 1949. She is the daughter of banking tycoon, August Metzler (b. 1905). In her 20s, her father began following the teachings of Anish Shantha and eventually created an ashram for him. Maria began to follow Anish, just like her father. While she clearly appreciates Anish, she also has a mind for business and she becomes the central figure in managing the ashram, its accounts and its publicity.
In the mid-1980s, Claire Robinson appeared at the ashram and Maria is deeply disappointed that Anish began a relationship with her. She believed that Anish was being foolish, as she saw Claire as a stupid, young woman who could ruin everything her family and Anish worked for. Maria may also have been slightly jealous that Anish chose Claire to love when she had been there the whole time.
When Claire became pregnant, Maria managed to send her to India, with the assurance that she would be taken care of legally and monetarily with the agreement not to reveal Dev’s paternity.
After Anish collapses on a European speaking tour, Claire is distraught to learn that Anish had changed his legal directives without her knowledge and listed his estranged son, Dev, as the only person with the power of attorney to make legal life and death decisions for him.
After meeting Dev at the hospital in Italy, Maria tries to persuade Dev to sign the rights back to her, as she believes that she knows better than anyone what is best for Anish.