In a museum hall, surrounded by classical white marble busts, a man approaches Antonia (Margherita Buy) and asks to be her guide. She refuses him and he tells her, “Then you won’t ever know the secret of each statue.” She doesn’t want to know. She deals with enough of them at the office, like when an HIV-positive patient cringes at the thought of telling his wife about his secret sexual life. At least her home life with her husband, Massimo (Andrea Renzi), is secret-free. Or is it?
Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek (Harem Suaré, Hamam) has set Antonia up, and forces us to watch the world as she knows it smash and crumble away. Wallowing in sorrow, Antonia uncovers a cryptic message on the back of a painting in her husband’s office, signed “your ignorant fairy,” and funnels all her grief into uncovering the mystery, even if it devastates her.
You’d never guess that His Secret Life co-writer Gianni Romoli had a hand in writing the zombie-cult classic Cemetery Man, which seethes with humor in every whack of the axe. His Secret Life allows death and deception to weigh every moment down (even those meant to be positive emotional breakthroughs) like an anchor tied around our movie-watching necks.
In her search for answers, Antonia overhears a room full of homosexuals and transsexuals talk about her: “She figured it all out. She’s in the hospital now recovering from shock.” When she confronts Michele (Stefano Accorsi), he barks at her, “If your husband wanted you to know, he would have told you.” But she’s not deterred. When she’s finally befriended by the family of societal misfits, they attempt to breathe some life back into her with food and frivolity as they all hide from the truth.
Because of Antonia’s constant look of impending doom, even the film’s high-energy points are strangled. With all the sympathy, empathy and pity fogging up the screen, alongside comical special effects meant to be tragic, His Secret Life enters the land of unintentional melodrama and tiresome love triangles.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].