Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Renegotiating Betrayal and Trust in Le Fate Ignoranti

Le Fate Ignoranti a 2001 Italian film about a woman, a man, and the man they both love. The story pushes forward the idea that no one chooses who they fall in love with and the ability to enjoy life is the most precious experience we are offered. Although, beautifully set, the beginning of the film does play like a soap opera plot. As a result of Massimo’s (played by Andrea Renzi) untimely death, Antonia (Margherita Buy) realizes that through half of her marriage her husband has had a lover (Stefano Accorsi). In an attempt to reconcile Massimo’s death and adultery Antonia becomes friends with her late husband’s lover Michele.

The opening sequences of the film take us through Antonia and Massimo’s life together. She is a doctor who works in a small clinic, while Massimo works as a businessman. They live in a beautiful home in the suburbs of Rome, where they share everything and everyone has their place. The maid seems to forget this on occasion, and as a result, early in the film we see she and Antonia have an argument.

Through Antonia’s friendship with Michele (her late husband’s boyfriend) we are able to see exactly how Massimo is able to love both people, maintaining a comfortable deceitful relationship with one, and a hidden though more honest relationship with another. Antonia is excellent at maintaining silence and an air of perfection around everyone in her circle, she begins her life by taking the most obvious steps toward leading a "succesful" life, these are not neccesarily the steps that lead to a fulfilling life. As Michele’s group of friends begins to embrace her, Antonia's cloud of quiet perfection lifts from her life, she is able to see the complications involved in choosing a life that is not predicated by only partaking in the activities that are deemed acceptable by mass society. Antonia grows in understanding of herself, and others by sharing in their joys and pains.

The character of Antonia’s mother Veronica (played by Erica Blanc) is a wonderful key to understanding how Antonia and Michele could have a relationship that would develop. Veronica gives sympathy to her daughter but explains the trials of being kept a secret by someone who matters to you. Veronica is able to show Antonia that Michele also suffered in his relationship with Massimo.

Michele’s neighbor Serra (played by Serra Yilmaz) is a symbol of the dichotomy Oztepek is trying to convey in this film. Serra is the embodiment of the understanding that fulfillment for a relationship needs both truth and love in order to be in balance.

The use of color to symbolize repression is a wonderful tool throughout the film. As the film opens we see Antonia in her world of muted colors and neutrals, Michele on the other hand has a Crayola box of colors in his reach. As Michele and Antonia grow closer Antonia’s color palette grows. Initially there are overwhelming greens that coincide with her grief. The true reds emerge with her understanding of Massimo and Michele and the navy of affection permeates through both characters as they get closer and closer to one another.

I believe through Le Fate Ignoranti, Ozpetek was trying to create a space of familiarity in which middle/ upper class Italians could feel comfortable. Through Antonia’s eyes the viewer has the experience of being part of a comfortable and safe majority. By using Antonia who is described as being “uninterested in life” as a conduit into another part of Italian life you see Michele and Massimo’s friends the way I believe Ozpetek thinks most Italians see queer life. Antonia however faces her friendship with Michele the same way she experiences the art gallery at the beginning of the film. She looks around admiring some pieces and moving closer to others, but at the end of the day nothing is taken with her except her recollection of the event.

The film does have quite a few disjointing characteristics. For instance the bizarre one-dimensional maid who comes across as a confusing add on. The randomly ethnic maid who listens to no one and has perpetually over the top emotions and a slight tinge of nosiness is a frustrating representation of classism and racism on screen. The relationship she has with Antonia is never clarified, but there is a brief reference to an aunt who never appears.
The many companions in Michele’s crew are incredibly overwhelming and once again the majority of them have the characteristics of cardboard cutouts. The main purpose of the film on the surface seems to be to remove stereotypes attached to people lifestyles and love.

Unfortunately by including so many characters with no explanation for their presence or their motivations stereotypes pervade through the movie. There is the Character of Emir Serra’s brother who presents himself as the tall dark handsome foreigner come to take Antonia away from her life of predictability. The pudgy party kid who is only interested in guys and parties and the older gay man that has no issue with bringing a stranger to lunch with friends because he’s cute are two examples of Ozpetek’s excess, in poor explanation of representation. The worst of all was the conversion scene. Michele has had the same boyfriend for seven years. Suddenly he’s going to fall in love with his boyfriend’s jilted wife? Does that not play into the “he just hasn’t met the right woman” line?

For the most part the film was entertaining but having to stick with a main character that is such a leech does take some of the sweetness from the film. Also Ozpetek’s insistence that Michele and his friends would put up with a woman who denies their presence is disappointing. Antonia’s ability to be friends with Michele, but never want to admit that he is a part of her world, as well as the hiding of her pregnancy from her “friends” does make an Antonia a less than sympathetic character.

A profile for Le Fate Ignoranti at IMDb

A Review of Le Fate Ignoranti in English from Bright Lights

A Review of Le Fate Ignoranti in English at Guardian Unlimited

A Review of Le Fate Ignoranti in English at Time Out New York

A Review of Le Fate Ignoranti in Italian at reVision Cinema

A Review of Le Fate Ignoranti in Italian by Cine File

A Synopsis of Le Fate Ignoranti in Italian from Wikipedia


AlonsoDelarte said...

Yes, the portrayal of Antonia's maid is irritating. It makes Rosario from Will & Grace actually look like a step forward.

Something which American network TV shows and mainstream American films have failed to do in regards to the portrayal of the queer community is to move beyond “the solitary and the couple” to a full-fledged “lesbian ecology,” (Wolfe & Roripaugh, 2006) much less an "ecology" which fully justifies the use of the "LGBT" acronym. In Le Fate Ignoranti, Massimo's "secret world" includes at least one of each from the acronym: the Turkish lady is a lesbian, Michele appears to be completely gay apart from his kissing Antonia, Massimo is bisexual, and Mara is transgendered.

The translator deserves some credit (or criticism?) for exercising subtlety in the subtitles: for example, the Turkish lady refers to herself as "lesbica" but this is ignored in the English subtitles. Contrast this to Stewie's song in the Family Guy episode "The Thin White Line," for which English-speaking viewers correctly deduct the subtext of Stewie's song, but the Spanish dubber "apparently felt that the subtext needed to be turned into an explicit statement" with the use of the word "homosexual." (Delarte, 2005)

Delarte, Alonso. "'Family Guy' musicals lost in translation" The Daily Vidette Online by wire from The South End. January 19, 2005. Accessed October 3, 2007

Wolfe, Susan J., and Lee Ann Roripaugh. "The (in)Visible Lesbian: Anxieties of Representation in the L Word." Reading the L Word. Eds. Kim Akass and Janet McCabe. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006. 43 - 54.

Eric said...

I agree completely with the issue of stereotypes. At first I thought it was a bit silly as well, but maybe Ozpetek was trying to prove a point about not only stereotypes involving gay people but with racial issues as well. The gay characters at first seem stereotypical but the director wants us to get to know them as human beings with real problems and issues, and I think he was effective in doing so and also in merging the Antonia's world with the lives of these new people she meets.

Also, it was great to see Erika Blanc in this movie. I remember her from old '70s exploitation flicks, most particularly the 1971 Italian-French-Belgian production of "La plus longue nuit du diable" or "The Devil's Nightmare" - great flick for those who like Italian horror!

Piero said...
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Piero said...

Although I have some problems with this movie, I can say that I like it. It is true that there are several stereotypes (and I can add to your list the Neapolitan girl who sings…), but the importance of this stereotypical approach, I think, has to be weighted with the role that we want this movie to have. To be more explicit, if we consider that this movie has to be an investigation of the social issues the gay community has to face in Italy, or of the attitude of Italians against gay and lesbian people, or, to paraphrase Prof. Corvino’s conference title, of gay life’s morality, then, this movie is a failure because is superficial and lacks courage, since the social issues are only hinted by Antonia’s misbelieve of M. standing for Michele and her not revealing to her mother than the late husband had another man and not another woman. On the other hand, if one considers this movie to be a declaration of presence of a social group, then, Le fate ignoranti, even with its stereotypes and its sweetening representation of gay life, can be considered an important movie. I am among the latter, especially thinking that since the 1977 movie “Una giornata particolare”, this is the first successful movie to show gay people.

judith said...

Yes, I suppose, you're right that Ozpetek uses a lot of stereotypes. But we can also see, that he is really radical and absolutely not one-sided on the other side: he is not only de-constructing the bourgeois myth of a heterosexual couple's happiness but showing also the problems of the gay community - might that be prejudices they have to face (as in the scene in the rain, where Antonia and Michele are having a fight) or might that be the feeling of missing something (as Michele expresses, saying that sometimes he wishes he had a home as Massimo and Antonia were having).
So what I found, apart from so many other things I liked about the film, really great is that he dismantles and takes apart everything, and also shows what problems you have to deal with if you decide (by will or because you are compelled to) to live a life off the mainstream-heterosexual-couple-life.

sficano said...

I agree with the disparities people are expressing regarding stereotypes are ever present in this film. However, wasn’t that the point? The overemphasis of the presence of the gay community as well as their behaviors is show in this film to a society in Italy that still today pretends they do not exist. Almost as if the director was saying here we are! Recognize us! Sure it was a bit melodramatic and unrealistic, but in my mind, that’s what makes it a film and not reality. Wouldn’t it be rather monotonous to go and view our everyday lives point-for-point on the big screen?

For me, I enjoyed the symbolism and hidden implications throughout the film. For example, the explanation of the breaking glass to signify someone you love has left your life. I loved how it only took a second for the viewer to understand Antonia was not gone for good by a simple glass not breaking instead of a long epilogue.

It was funny how at one point, despite the fact that the relationship between Michele and Antonia was quite bizarre and unrealistic the, I was actually rooting for them to make it! But I was quickly snapped back to reality with the thought of how strange that situation might be. (Dead husband’s lover?)

All in all, however, a fascinating, entertaining and informative piece.

DMeador said...

It seems as if the biggest point of discussion is on the topic of stereotypes. In my opinion, they are mainly used as a background for the story. It is similar to any story in which a character has to venture into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territories. I think Ozpetek wanted to create a world as unfamiliar as possible for Antonia. When someone is an uncomfortable place, they have to find ways to make it comfortable, and I think Antonia does the best she can at becoming comfortable with her new surroundings.

JamieF said...

The comment H made in her post about colour being a driving force in this film, representing the characters and their many emotional states, defintely resounded with me. I especially enjoyed the reference: "As the film opens we see Antonia in her world of muted colors and neutrals, Michele on the other hand has a Crayola box of colors in his reach." Well put.

As far as stereotyping goes, I won't disagree that perhaps Ozpetek intentionally populated his film with many stereotypes to force the very irrationality of their existence. As far as Antonia's situation with Michele, as David points out it was necessary to wrench her from her comfortable and contented world and surround her with characters- or caricatures- that force her to rethink her perceptions of herself, her past, and her future.

That being said, I too was rather irritated, as others have mentioned, by the maid character. Whilst the stereotype issue is a central point to this film, I felt her character was a bit overwrought for my tastes.

Overall, however, I did enjoy this film very much.

CDAbrams said...

While I agree that the way in which Antonia and Massimo's maid, Nora, was portrayed was quite frustrating in its representation of classism and racism, her "over the top" emotional reactions interested me. Not only are we as viewers unable to get a strong sense of Nora's relationship with Antonia, but also we are left wondering about the relationship she had with Massimo. I don't know if I am inferring way too much here, however I think she may have been closer to Massimo then just your average a live-in housekeeper (whatever that may be). Perhaps she had a clue about Massimo's secret life, and therefore shared a closeness with him that Antonia could not understand, but is expressed in the way she mourns his death. I wish we could have had more of Nora's character than a cardboard cutout, to find out if my theory is true.

H Jennings said...

We all seem to wish Ozpetek had worked harder to create depth with the character of the maid. We also wish the majority of the queer representations were a little less stereotyped. However for the most part we all seem to like the film. Eric's comment on the establishment of characters as a paradigm to work within was an interesting take on one of the reasons why the characters seem so flat. I also think Piero's comment on the presentation of gay characters in Italian film is an important note to highlight. By creating these characters even if they are limited then we can at least learn from and shape new characters to more accurately capture representative portrayls.