Already tormented by grief over the auto-accident death of her loving husband, an upper-middle class Italian widow receives another psychological blow in "His Secret Life" when going through his personal effects. She discovers he was having an affair. For seven years. With another man.
An emotionally resounding, life-affirming film of surprising connections and affections, the story sees Antonia (Margherita Buy) brought out of her despondency by the determination to face down her husband's lover. But instead she finds herself becoming friends with the sexy, rugged, 30-year-old artist named Michele (Stefano Accorsi), despite receiving a catty cold shoulder at first.
"Now he's gone and I still have to put up with you? No way," Michele protests. "I couldn't even go to his funeral. All I have left is a stack of photographs."
But when Antonia is embraced by Michele's inner circle after making house calls to treat one of his AIDS-stricken friends (she's a doctor), a tentative affinity slowly forms between the two loves of the dead man's life.
Written and directed by Ferzan Ozpetek ("Steam: The Turkish Bath"), the film is ardent, penetrating and poignant as Antonia and Michele surprise themselves, bonding through shared stories of their romantic moments with Massimo (Andrea Renzi) and revealing secrets he kept hidden from one or the other. "Massimo cooked?" Antonia gasps after being told he made a mean meatball. "I'll give you the recipe if you want," replies Michele's kitchen-inclined best friend.
Cologne-model handsome Accorsi and comely, pensive, fresh-faced-at-40 Buy do an admirable job of depicting the growing covenant between their characters, the occasional confusion that goes with it, and the events that remind them how different they are -- especially when it comes to Michele shutting out his sorrow through promiscuous sex. Antonia is quite rattled when she sees her partner in woe being sandwiched between two chiseled lovers during a patio party at Michele's colorfully decaying rooftop loft.
Ozpetek includes some seemingly arbitrary subplots that are at times misleading about who is important to connect with in the picture. A transgender cohort of Michele's, for example, debates whether her brother's funeral is the right place for her family to see her as a woman for the first time. And Antonia's maid cries and prays over Massimo's demise for so long that you may start to wonder if she had been the man's lover as well.
"His Secret Life" (called "Fate Ignoranti" or "Ignorant Fairies" in Italy) also suffers from such strange editing choices that the oddly incongruous last act feels as if a reel might be missing when Antonia changes emotional and existential direction two or three times in as many screen minutes.
But the movie's warmth and human veracity prevail over its weaker elements, allowing the unique story to become comfortable, intimate and affectingly altruistic.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th September 2002
Distributed by: Medusa Film
Production compaines: R%26C Produzioni, Les Films Balenciaga
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Starring: Stefano Accorsi as Michele, Serra Yilmaz as Serra, Gabriel Garko as Ernesto, Erika Blanc as Veronica, Filippo Nigro as Riccardo, Andrea Renzi as Massimo, Koray Candemir as Emir, Lucrezia Valia as Mara, Ivan Bacchi as Luciano, Maurizio Romoli as Angelo, Carmine Recano as Israele, Luca Calvani as Sandro, Margherita Buy as Antonia
Also starring: Erica Blanc