Queer Brothers in Arms


Openly gay Turkish film director Ferzan Ozpetek, like Almodóvar, has never been nelly about scattering characters of his own persuasion throughout his oeuvre. In Steam (1997), a young married Italian inherits a steam bath in Turkey, and when he visits his bequest dressed in a towel, he unexpectedly falls for a young male native. In The Ignorant Fairies (2001), a widow discovers that her deceased spouse, who had been hit by two cars traveling in opposing directions, had a secret life composed of drag queens and gays of all varieties. Infiltrating this campy cabal out of a depressed curiosity, she, against her will, rediscovers happiness. As for 2003's top-notch Facing Windows, this detailed modern-day love affair between straight neighbors effectively incorporated the horror story of a gay man persecuted during World War II.

Now in Mine Vaganti, a highlight of the current 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, Ozpetek and his co-screenwriter Ivan Cotroneo again explore the plight of closeted homosexuals in a gentle farce full of fond stereotypes and choice macaroni.

You see, the Cantone clan owns a pasta factory in Puglia, a family business that is ready for some new blood -- but whose? Diabetic grandma (Ilaria Occhini), who helped start the factory, is ready to say goodbye to life. Dad (Ennio Fantastichini) is aging a bit, and he's ready to have both of his two sons, Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi) and Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) participate in the day-to-day dynamics of the company. Antonio, in fact, is already doing his share. Ah, but Tommaso, who was supposedly studying business in Rome, has returned home, and wants nothing to do with fettucini. He takes Antonio aside and tells his brother he has been lying to the whole family: he was in Rome studying literature, he's gay with a lover, he plans to be a writer, and he will come out to the whole brood that night.

Tommaso's goal is to provoke his unenlightened dad into having a fit. As he later tells his boyfriend over the phone: "You don't know my father. Once I tell him I'm a faggot, I'll be kicked out of here." Well, at dinner time, after a several anti-gay jokes have made their rounds, Tommaso bangs on his glassware to get every one's attention and reveal his secrets, but before he can utter his heartfelt declarations, Antonio gets up and announces he is gay, and pop immediately has a debilitating heart attack. Antonio is kicked out of the homestead and Tommaso has to pick up the mantle of the good straight son and run the company. What else can he do? "One gay son put my father in the hospital; two would kill him." Frustrated, Tommaso goes through the motions, so much so that everyone thinks he's fallen in love with the daughter of a fellow pasta maker. But his emotional fusilli is in danger of getting over-boiled when a brigade of his over-muscled, butch-impaired disco buddies from Rome visit along with his beau.

Who's going to win: family or nature? Let the disco tunes decide.

Although never less than sweet and engaging, the film at times seems a stirred pot of clashing styles. Momma, poppa, and the queer boys seem to have hippety-hopped out of some second-rate sitcom (American Pie Goes Italian), while grandma, Antonio, and several others serve up beautifully naturalistic performances. Tommaso falls in between. Yet whatever Ozpetek dishes out, you can always expect his offerings to be layered with humanity and wit. He doesn't disappoint here.