Saturday, June 6, 2009

Open Roads: THE MAN WHO LOVES -- and an interview with Maria Sole Tognazzi

A visually elegant and consistently interesting – if sometimes frustrating – exploration of how one particular man chooses (unless you see his actions as involuntary) to love, Maria Sole Tognazzi’s THE MAN WHO LOVES (L’uomo che ama) complements this years’ unusually dark FSLC Open Roads series by being a surprisingly bleak love story – or perhaps a gloomy story about one man’s search for love. Its lead character, Roberto, is played with relish and a combination of sexuality, puppy dog charm and macho nastiness by one of my favorite Italian performers, Pierfrancesco Favino (below, from El Alamein, Saturn in Opposition, The Unknown Woman, Keys to the House, and The Last Kiss and its upcoming sequel). Favino keeps us – and his two movie paramours -- consistently off-balance in his quest for “the real thing.”

In addition to the two women he courts at different times, Roberto’s search involves his gay brother (Michele Alhaique) and the brother’s partner, his mom and dad (who are still very much in love), and our hero’s business partner -- an older woman played by Marisa Paredes -- at his work in a pharmacy.

We follow his newest affair, with a clerk in a posh hotel (a pert and alluring Kseniya Rappoport, (shown left, and so different here from her award-winning role in The Unknown Woman) and later with another woman (a rather wan and facially immobile Monica Bellucci, shown below) who manages a chic art gallery. Neither affair goes well, for apparently opposite reasons. In and out of the “love” stories, family visits, work-related problems and one emergency take place. The satellite characters do their best to help our hero, offering advice and experience. Then the rug is suddenly and quietly pulled out from under the audience.

What Ms Tognazzi achieves with this maneuver is to force us to rethink everything we have witnessed. This is not unheard of in movies: disparate genre films such as The Sixth Sense and Rendition have played the game to good effect. In fact, the surprise element can often goose a so-so film such as M. Night Shyamalan’s into more fertile territory. Prior to her rug-pulling, Tognazzi has delivered an interesting but highly structured movie, almost like an exercise, full of instances of “teaching” via dialog delivered from one character to another as philosophy, explanation and/or help.

Once we understand what we have witnessed in a different way, the exercise proves worthwhile. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing the film again because I am certain I‘d get even more out of it upon a second viewing. Unfortunately, unless it finds U.S. distribution, The Man Who Loves will only be shown today, June 6, at the Walter Reade at 4:30 and again Wednesday, June 10, at 8pm. If the movie sounds at all appealing, see it while opportunity -- on the big screen -- knocks. (And, to avoid "spoilers," read the interview that follows after you've seen the film.)

When Italian filmmaker Maria Sole Tognazzi (shown, left) arrives a few minutes late for our interview, she asks forgiveness because, just outside our meeting place in the gallery adjoining the Walter Reade Theatre is being held a screening of a new documentary by Jonathan Demme, and Ms Tognazzi explains that she simply had to step inside the theatre and watch a few minutes. “He’s my favorite director!” she tells us, with a bright smile on her tanned face.

TrustMovies: No kidding: Your favorite director of all?

Maria Sole Tognazzi: Well… (she shakes her head). There are so many of course, but he is one of them. I have always said, when people ask me, that the best way to learn the skills of filmmaking is simply to watch great films.

I think that is certainly one way to do it.

I never went to a film school. Instead, I learned by being on set. I was an assistant director for ten years. But watching the great films… Rossellini's and La Nouvelle Vague -- Godard, Truffaut – have been very inspiring to me in my work. Now, there is a young French director that I particularly love: Christophe Honoré.

Favino as the sleep-deprived pharmacist at work.

Yes! But among contemporary American directors, I would have to say that Demme is one of my very favorites. Rachel Getting Married… A fantastic film!

What was most interesting to me about your film The Man Who Loves was seeing a woman director‘s “take” on a man, especially one who is her main character. How, as the writer and director, did you go about creating/imagining him?

The desire for the film came about because I wanted to talk about the complexity and fragility of men. In Italy, in our culture, in both movies and literature, we are much more accustomed to seeing female characters who suffer for love, who are betrayed. So let’s see what happens to a man in this situation.

That’s interesting, because my response to that character -- and I love the actor who plays him: Pierfrancesco Favino, who can be so strong and vulnerable at the same time -- was mostly, Gheesh, what a jerk!

A lovelorn Favino, in one of the film's
elegantly composed and lighted shots.

That can be a normal reaction, when you see him in pain and suffering and you wonder, why are you acting like this? But it is a time when he is feeling very fragile. I truly believe that this character is a man who has not yet found himself. Not as his younger brother has been able to do. The roles are changing here: because the younger brother finds himself being the older brother in some ways.

Yes, the younger brother possesses much more of a sense of who he is and what he wants.

The film goes into something like the interchanging of roles between the man and the woman, too. Even some of their dialog is similar. Also, every other character in the movie brings to the main character a kind of mirror in which he can see himself reflected. Even the doctor he works with, the chemist/pharmacist, does this. She tells him that when a partner leaves, it seems worse than death. But eventually, things do change.

Did you mean for the movie to deliberately confuse us, in terms of the time in which events are taking place?

Yes, it seemed more interesting to narrate the two loves affairs in this way. Also another reason for that is to show how the coming and going of love, unlike so many other things in life, we cannot predict. Love does not follow a predictable logic.

Favino, with Michele Alhaique, center, as his brother.

(At this point, we must move on to our next interview,
so we thank Ms Tognazzi for both her time -- and her film.

No comments: