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Photograph by R. Eucalito

Comrades in Amour: Margherita Buy and Stefano Accorsi discover they have a whole lot in common in 'His Secret Life.'

The Other Man

A wife frees herself when she learns about her dead husband's 'Secret Life'

By Michael S. Gant

AFFAIRS ARE pretty much a given in modern sophisticated Italian marriages. But when the dashing Massimo dies in a strangely comic traffic accident on a Roman street (people with cell phones really ought to watch where they're going), his wife of 15 years, Antonia (Margherita Buy), learns that the "other woman" was really a "man." Massimo had, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, "changed teams." Tracking down a mash note she discovers in her husband's personal things, Antonia walks through the looking glass and into another world: the extended family of Massimo's gay lover, Michele (Stefano Accorsi, of The Last Kiss). Michele's funky walk-up apartment harbors a free-floating cast of refugees from Turkey, a transsexual or two and anyone else who feels marginalized enough by straight society to need a welcoming sanctuary.

After a bout of recrimination between Antonia and Michele over who got the best of Massimo, the emotionally shell-shocked wife begins to find a kind of solace in this new world. It certainly offers her more support than she gets at home from her mother, whose down-to-earth advice ("Get over it--all men have affairs") doesn't seem to be helping. Realizing that her whole life has been constructed out of secrets--including some that she has kept from herself--Antonia opens up and starts to live for the first time. Soon, she and Michele form a bond built upon their shared memories of Massimo--a bond that transcends trivial differences over sexual orientation.

The material is deftly handled by director Ferzan Ozpetek (Steam: The Turkish Bath), who isn't afraid to let hints of absurdity undercut Antonia's general mopiness (especially in the scenes with the family maid, who has begun to obsess over the dead master of the house and constructed a shrine to his memory, subtly mocking Antonia and Michele's refusal to move on with their lives). Buy's startlingly large green eyes can be mesmerizing, even when her character is being maddeningly dense (it does take a very long time for her gaydar to kick into operation), and Accorsi delivers a finely honed performance, poised on the edge between regret and anger.

Unfortunately, the film is so bent on teaching a lesson in tolerance that it descends into soap opera bathos. Among the many good deeds Michele performs (in addition to running a full-time business, apparently paying everybody's rent and creating art installations in his spare time) is tending to Ernesto, a young friend dying of AIDS. Her maternal and professional (she's a nurse) urges running at full tide, Antonia takes over ministering to the young man's physical and psychological needs. A tragic incident from the young man's past leads to a shamelessly manipulative scene in a hospital that includes, yes, a single tear rolling down a cheek. It's one step away from the funny-hat diseases that have fueled so many doomed Hollywood romances. Later, Antonia drops a surprise twist straight out of As the World Turns. His Secret Life is so big-hearted that it ends up soft-headed.


His Secret Life (Unrated; 105 min.), directed by Ferzan Ozpetek, written by Ozpetek and Gianne Romoli, photographed by Pasquale Mari and starring Margherita Buy and Stefano Accorsi, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.


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From the October 10-16, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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