Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The Last Kiss

Posted By on Wed, Sep 18, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Relationships — intimate, agonizing and wonderful — are a world where irony is a common element. It turns from a fortuitous meeting, whirls into the irresistible momentum of a kiss and brakes down to a stop in the entropy of hearts: death or departures less dear — and possibly more irreconcilable. The Last Kiss takes a breathless tour around this world in less than two hours.

The story revolves around Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) and Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a couple approaching their 30s and the birth of their first child. That they’ve conceived without the benefit of the Roman Catholic sacrament of marriage doesn’t seem to mute the joy of the impending blessed event for Giulia’s mother, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli, Stealing Beauty).

Most of the emotions of Giulia’s father, Emilio (Luigi Diberti, Immortal Beloved), seem muted though. Any expression of affection he may have had for Anna, his wife of 30 years, has faded into a stone-faced acceptance that they will share a house, a bed and a so-called life together till death do them part.

Anna seems to compensate by having enough emotional upheavals for the two of them. Perceiving Giulia’s pregnancy, Anna realizes that she’s borne an unbearable life with Emilio for years (writer-director Gabriele Muccino literally places her in her husband’s shadow). Her mind turns toward the temptations of infidelity, if not yielding to them. But she also realizes — to her horror — that she’s jealous of what she comprehends as her daughter’s beautiful life.

But the beauty of domestic life wanes for Carlo (as it did for Emilio years before). It’s eclipsed by fears of future fatherhood and the restraints of commitment it implies. Carlo’s friend and co-worker, Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti), and his wife, Livia (Sabrina Impacciatore), act out Carlo’s anxieties. In Livia’s eyes, Adriano has a long way to go to becoming just a tolerable father. Her notoriously sharp tongue (his friends refer to her as "the ball-buster") constantly chisels out a picture of him as an impotent parent and thus cleaves their relationship apart. But Adriano’s fidelity to his wife endures unchallenged. "That’s why you’re exploding," Carlo explains.

Perhaps that explanation also rationalizes Carlo’s challenged fidelity. Forbidden fruit personified dangles before him, deliciously embodied in Francesca (Martina Stella), an innocent, 18-year-old high-school senior. In a pivotal example of irony, Carlo meets his temptation as both ingénue and unwitting femme fatale at the pastoral wedding of his friend, Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino, Excellent Cadavers). He follows Francesca as if lured. They climb up the ladder of a tree house (where he indulges in the juvenile pleasure of looking up her skirt) and he escapes the world below focused on wives and mothers, husbands and fathers, and families and children, whether realized or potential. Thus Muccino makes Carlos the moving picture of a man rejecting grown-up responsibility to all but literally hide within the childish security of a little mama’s skirt. His relationship with Francesca becomes a vertiginous slide down a slope slippery with her peaches-and-cream dew.

A human gravity binds Carlo’s story to those of Giulia, his friends and their families. Coolly cast off by his girlfriend, Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) suffers, crucifying himself on his broken heart. Witnessing his mother’s tearful mourning over his terminally ill father just packs salt in his wounds. Dreadlocked Alberto (Marco Cocci) is a Teflon Romeo. Female affections don’t much affect him. On the surface (one of Muccino’s lesser creations, he’s not much deeper), his appetite is for adrenaline, sex and marijuana.

Then there’s Marco, who enjoys the film’s "normal" (and most marginally represented) relationship. At one point his bride proudly states, "Normalcy is the true revolution."

"Fidelity is utopia," another friend counters. The implication is that both fidelity and utopia are beyond man’s grasp.

The Last Kiss puts an alternate spin on melodrama in highly polished sights and sounds. Muccino’s camera is a cinematic satellite shifting the trajectory of its flight and deftly leaping from the orbit of one principal character to another in this ensemble piece. The sound track bumps up the energy level between sometimes hair-raising (and sometimes ear-splitting) interpersonal shock waves.

The events and dialogue here mostly ring with some ironic truth. And Muccino mostly succeeds with this ambitious testimony on intimacy where every kiss, for so many reasons, may be the last.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

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