It's strange sometimes how two films within a single week's viewing complement each other by throwing a different light on the same theme. The contrasting films here are the highly-considered "A Single Man" (2009) directed and written by the designer Tom Ford and the Italian flick "Loose Cannons" (2010) directed by the Turkish-born, Italy-based Ferzon Ozpetek. Both concern the life choices of gay men, but they could not be more different in their approach to the subject.
Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, it has taken me a while to get around to watching the Ford film, for which lead actor Colin Firth was Oscar-nominated. It portrays one day in the life of his buttoned-up academic, a day on which he contemplates ending it all, having been in mourning for the past year for the sudden death of his lover of sixteen years in a motor accident. He goes about his daily routine at the university, but takes time out to write a number of suicide notes, arrange documents concerning his assets in tidy piles, laying out the clothes for his funeral including specific instructions on the correct knot for his tie, and practices different angles for best shooting himself. After a boozy evening with good friend and neighbour Julianne Moore, he postpones the final act by going to a local bar, where he again encounters one of his students, Nicholas Hoult, with whom he had a cryptic conversation earlier in the day. Hoult was first noticed in the Hugh Grant starrer "About a Boy" (2002), but now at twenty has matured into a singularly pretty young man. This does not go unnoticed by Firth, who takes him back to his ever-so-modern and chilly house, puts aside all the suicide paraphenalia, and then promptly SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER drops dead with a heart attack, just as the possibilities for a renewed love of life have presented themselves.
There is something ever so cold, calculated, and clinical about the entire movie. While beautiful to watch and with an immaculate performance from Firth, the film remains, like its creator, a designer triumph, but cold and bloodless with it.
"Loose Cannons" (not to be confused with the 1990 comic cop caper starring Dan Aykroyd and Gene Hackman) is a slightly messy, but very winning comedy-drama. I've not seen any of Ozpetek's earlier films apart from his excellent first flick "Hamam: The Turkish Bath" (1997), but I gather his later Italian-made movies often focus on gay themes. Here we follow the story of heart-throb Riccardo Scamarcio (best-known to us for his lead role in the film version of "Romanzo Criminale" in 2005 but also amongst the large cast in the Woody Allen flick reviewed below). He is the youngest child of an extended family of pasta-manufacturers, living in Lecce, a small city in the Southern heel of Italy. Having just returned from his business studies in Rome, he comes out to his older brother, saying that he does not want to get involved in the family business, but wishes to return to his friends in Rome to pursue his writing ambitions. However, at dinner that evening, with the entire family in attendance including his matriarch grandmother and his dotty aunt, his brother uses the opportunity to come out first, promptly giving his homophobic father a mild heart attack and lumbering our young hero with responsibility for the factory -- the older brother now having been disowned and the sister married to a no-goodnik despised by her parents. His parents believe him to be 'straight' especially since the young and beautiful new female executive at the factory seems to fancy him.
Nothing could be further from the truth as we can observe for ourselves when a carload of his Rome friends arrive for a short visit, including his actual own love interest. They are as camp a bunch as you could imagine, but try to maintain appearances before the staid family -- although grandma, the sister, and even the gorgeous executive can soon see through the charade. The grandmother, beautifully played by Ilaria Ochcini, is in fact the most interesting and modern-thinking character. The present-day action is cut with her back-story starting with her wedding day, where it becomes appparent that she will proceed with the planned ceremony despite the fact that she is madly in love with the groom's brother. The implication is that he too is not interested in female company in a sexual way, but the pair remain soulmates throughout his remaining years. Of all the family she is the most tolerant of her grandchildren, regardless of their shortcomings. In the end (another SPOILER here), she dies after dolling herself up and stuffing herself with all of the forbidden sweet foods forbidden her as a diabetic. At her funeral we can see the first signs of the family finding a way to reconcile their differences, and the end scene of the various characters from both the past and present dancing together and changing partners is joyous to behold.
Given my druthers, this is the film which I would select to promote gay sensibilites, rather than the beautifully-composed but empty world portrayed by Mr. Ford.