Curiously similar in concept to I Am Love (cross-reference below), a well-to-do Italian family comes to terms with long-kept secrets, succession planning and all manner of relationships. (Perhaps this is not too surprising given that Ivan Cotroneo was on the writing team for both films.)
Ferzan Ozpetek tries valiantly, but the preponderance of stereotypical characters and scenes keep the result from soaring into the realm of magnificent, having to settle for looking and sounding better than it might have played out.
The saga unfolds in Lecce (the heel of Italy) where the Cantone family has run a successful pasta business for decades. But before the action begins in earnest, a bit of bridal back-story dashes onto the screen, setting the table for mystery before the first, present-day family meal has been served.
Seldom-present son, Tommaso (Riccardo Scarmarcio is at his best when letting his marvellously expressive face offer silent commentary on the proceedings), comes home to announce his homosexuality. He knows his stubborn, bigoted father will take the news badly and banish him forever, but that is exactly the result hoped for in order to gain familial freedom, write novels and live happily ever after with Marco (the too seldom-seen Carmine Recano).
But before Tommaso gets to tell his hidden truth (not to all, of course—one of the failings of Ozpetek’s script is to so clearly define the rest of the family household members as either blind as bats or extra sensitive to what lingers beneath the façades of those who share their daily bread), older brother (and heir apparent) Antonio (Allessandro Preziosi is saddled with dialogue and actions—the sibling’s fisticuffs ring particularly false—that leave his character decidedly pastel) steals his brother’s thunder with a revelation of his own.
Before the dessert tray comes out, Dad (OK, it’s a comedy, but Ennio Fantastichini can’t find the road to believability as a hard-nosed homophobe who happily accepts the “worldly” delights of his sage mistress) has suffered a heart attack and Antonio has been expelled from the storied estate.
It falls to the women to fulfill the title’s meaning. Ilaria Occhini turns in a first-rate performance as the diabetic matriarch who knows the importance of “the crazy wheel” to the business and stoically harbours a bitter disappointment: “Impossible love never dies” is at one with many narrative threads. Alcoholic daughter Luciana (Elena Sofia Ricci) suffers a lingering humiliation of her own yet is so wise and lucid at times, her morose actions can’t pass the litmus test of a fully-formed personality.
With an additional business partner signing on as the film opens, rebel with a cause Alba (Nicole Grimaudo has great fun scratching upscale cars and choosing footwear) becomes an active ingredient in the pasta company, keeping a close eye on her father’s investment and soon befriending, now co-manager, Tommaso.
Guess who knows the hopeful writer’s secret even as he’s put off his own disclosure (“If I said anything now, it would kill him”—yet wouldn’t that death also yield the freedom that the wordsmith pines for?)? The women all understand the queer men amongst them—the guys seem equally oblivious.
To lighten things up, a quartet of gay pals (including lover Marco) decide to pay a visit. Shenanigans abound and the laughs do add up, yet Dad continues to be none the wiser that his son’s buds are all Dorothy devotees.
Thanks goodness for the cinematography (Maurizio Calvesi) and the original music (Pasquale Catalano). The former’s frequently circling lens, delivering perfectly timed action/reaction images as the admissions continue to mount up, is a miracle of motion; the latter’s use of celeste and accordion provide a dreamy, childlike hue even as the pizzicato strings add punch to the overall flow.
Enjoy the ride for its fine look and frothy fun, but be prepared to suspend disbelief that these circumstances could unfold like this in 2010. JWR