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A bittersweet love affair in modern Italy
on December 14, 2005
This is the best film I've seen in perhaps six months or more. The direction by Turkish/Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek is consistently interesting, intriguing, beguiling and ultimately satisfying both emotionally and intellectually. The film is beautifully cut, and the acting, particularly by the fascinating Giovanna Mezzogiorno who plays the young mother of two whose name is also Giovanna, is first rate.
The story begins in a bakery during World War II when Davide Veroli (Massimo Girotti) is a baker's apprentice. We see him among the great earthen ovens and the warm loaves as he makes what appears to be a sprint out of the cave-like establishment. But he is pounced upon by the baker. They wrestle, a knife is grabbed and apparently the baker falls and there is blood on Davide's hands as he runs out into the streets.
Cut to modern times as Giovanna and her working-class husband, Filippo (Filippo Nigro) are crossing a bridge in the city. They meet an old man who seems lost and disoriented. He can't remember his name and he has no identification. Filippo takes pity on him and against his wife's wishes takes him home with them to their apartment. We know because of the man's age that the mystery of who he is has something to do with the men in the bakery scene from World War II.
But his story is only tangential to the central story of the film which is about Giovanna's brief affair with the man next door, Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), whose apartment window faces hers. This is a love story, a bitter-sweet one--which all great love stories should be in some sense, since life itself is bittersweet. It is framed by, and contrasted with, another love story, that involving the older man from many years ago.
The tension in the film revolves around the resolution of the affair between the married Giovanna and the handsome man who will soon be leaving the city. Will she abandon her marriage and her family for the excitement of a new man? Because the police can find out nothing about the old man, and because Giovanna's heart softens toward him, and because he is an elegant man of refinement, especially in the pastry arts--Giovanna's dream is to be a pastry chef--the man is allowed to stay for a while and the two are drawn together into friendship, the old man and the young woman.
That's enough of the plot--the development, the denouement, and the resolution of which are beautifully realized in both an artistic and an emotional sense. Instead let me say that the feel of modern Italy with its racial tensions and its old world versus new world differences are nicely expressed as the past makes itself felt on the present. The dialogue is wonderfully expressive and gives us the sense of authenticity and the kind of realistic effect seen only in the very best films. This is the first film directed by Ozpetek that I have seen, but it won't be the last.
But see this for Giovanna Mezzogiorno whose beautiful and expressive eyes and natural demeanor will hold you to the screen.