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[whitespace] 'The Last Kiss'
Glossing Lips: Stephano Accorsi flees from marriage into the embrace of Martina Stella.

Restless Ways

Four chums wrestle with growing up in Italian comedy 'The Last Kiss'

By Richard von Busack

ON THE WAY to becoming old men who think about nothing but disease or money, four young male friends rebel in The Last Kiss. These overgrown boys deal with oncoming age in all the most desperate ways, from a nose piercing to planning a trip to Tanzania.

Carlo (Stefano Accorsi), an advertising executive, lives with Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who is three months pregnant. They're ready to be married, but Carlo's nagging doubts about giving up the single life are amplified by his chum Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti), the father of a toddler. This new dad hates the routine and isn't afraid to fill Carlo's ear with terrifying stories of how bad a baby can be, as well as what it's like to deal with an angry wife: "She'll blame you for everything you don't give her."

These tales make Carlo waver, but what pushes him over is a girl he meets at a party: a bewitchingly blonde and very available 18-year-old, Francesca (Martina Stella, who ought to be signed up by an American movie agent right away).

Carlos' other two buddies are also uneasy. Dreadlocked Alberto (Marco Cocci) enjoys such a stream of women in his life that he can barely tell one from the other. The parade's left him bored and ready for escape. Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) has two problems: an ex-girlfriend he can't forget and the sight of his father bedridden and dying by inches after a dull life spent as a shopkeeper.

The restlessness spreads like a virus. Carlo's mother-in-law Anna (Stefania Sandrelli of The Conformist) hates the fact that she's aging and is about to be a grandma, and she's fed up by her husband's indifference.

The Last Kiss features a sprawling cast, but it's still a lean movie, with the photography by Marcello Montarsi polishing up the riches of these mostly affluent lives. One kissing scene, staged behind the rainy glass of a car's windshield, is especially lush. The film speed is turned down, as in the famous kiss in Rear Window, and the slowed-down windshield wipers throb like cellos.

When Anna gets the exciting news of her daughter's pregnancy, she says her heart is beating "forte-forte" (loud-loud). This prime comedy is forte-forte and paced to American speed. American bands play in the background, and one Yankee rock group performs live at an expensive, traditionally Italian garden wedding.

The trilling of cell phones is almost a part of the soundtrack. This Yankee invention, a sign of status, ruins the love lives of the young bravos. Even as they try to carry on the ancient Latin game of balancing wives and mistresses, the cell phones screw things up for them. They ring at the worst possible times, destroying alibis and ruining trysts.

The Last Kiss has fun with the little-boy instincts that keep men running, but it's an unusually sympathetic comedy. Saying that, the women here don't shrug off male cowardice and treachery. Mezzogiorno gives a memorable example of the southern European method for dealing with infidelity: igniting like a Saturn V and performing all three acts of Medea in 30 seconds, while scrabbling for the largest, sharpest object she can find. The scene's too serious to take as pure comedy, but too grandiose not to laugh at. Watching her blow up, you see the limitations of our favored Anglo-American method: laying down the law on a cheating lover in a low, deadly voice, like a sheriff threatening a cattle rustler.

The film is quick and funny, but also noteworthy, because it acknowledges how touch and go even the longest marriages can be. Director/writer Gabriele Muccino has said that he's modeled his film on early 1960s comedies like Divorce, Italian Style. Comic investigations of troubled relationships are unusual in these conservative times. The Last Kiss' competition is a movie like City by the Sea, which suggests a kid will turn murderer as a direct result of his parents' divorce. Nearly 25 years' worth of American filmmakers, who had no wars or depressions to face, lingers over the shards of broken families and dads that ran off. No wonder the audience prefers hobbits and Spider-Man to contemporary drama.

Today, you can count a film as extraordinarily sophisticated if it suggests that love, not custom, ought to hold a couple together. However, while Muccino's film is always funny and compelling, there's an inevitable moralizing streak that comes out. At the funeral of Paolo's father, a girl states proudly, "Normality is the true revolution." In other words, settling down is an act of defiance against the crowd's self-indulgent sleeping around. Even in the context of a comedy, it's disagreeable to see "normality" defined by anyone, and it's stodgy to consider marriage as an institution under siege.

In its satisfying finale, The Last Kiss shows the space between the excitement of first love and the frequent contentment of marriage. The film acknowledges that men and women give a little something up when they commit themselves for life. The way The Last Kiss laughs at and celebrates that lost freedom makes you grateful for its small pleasures, as well as its large ones.

The Last Kiss (R; 115 min.), directed and written by Gabriele Muccino, photographed by Marcello Montarsi and starring Stefano Accorsi and Giovanna Mezzogiorno, opens Friday at Camera 7 in Campbell.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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