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Le Fate ignoranti (2001)

His Secret Life (USA), The Ignorant Fairies(International English title), Tableau de famille

Sex, love, secrets and lies

Directed by:

Ferzan Özpetek

Rating: 3/10

Running Time: 110 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: France, Italy

In an art gallery, as Antonia (Margherita Buy) is looking at a classical bust of a handsome youth, a man in a tuxedo comes up and offers to be her guide and reveal 'the secret of each statue'. 'Go away, I'm married', she says. 'Perfect, so am I' he replies. In fact this has all been a flirtatious charade – the 'stranger' is Antonia's loving husband of fifteen years, Massimo (Andrea Renzi). After Massimo is killed in a freak accident, however, the grief-stricken Antonia learns that her husband really was a stranger, with a secret or two about good-looking young men. An intimate love-letter inscribed on the back of a painting leads her to Massimo's homosexual lover of seven years, Michele (Stefano Accorsi), and his extended quasi-family of gays, trannies and Turkish refugees. The rest of 'Le Fate Ignoranti' traces Antonia's unusual relationship with Michele and his friends as she gradually comes to terms with her husband's infidelity and discovers a new independence and a secret that is all her own.

Ferzan Özpetek's ensemble film about sex, love, secrets and lies starts intriguingly enough, before descending into a sort of gay soap opera, where the many characters and their different storylines are all painted with thin, pallid strokes that leave little impression of depth or scale. The central relationship between Antonia and Michele is fuelled by a complex blend of resentment, jealousy and attraction, as they see in one another a reflection of their love for Massimo – but I failed to find either of them particularly engaging as characters, despite the very best efforts of Buy and Accorsi to flesh them out. When other characters are made to deliver gratuitous lines about how special Antonia and/or Michele are, you start to suspect that this is a desperate compensation for the script's failure to establish this in other ways.

'Le Fate Ignoranti' certainly draws an effective contrast between Antonia's chilly bourgeois life with Massimo in the suburbs and the more communal values of Michele's inner city apartment block, but lost amidst all the film's other contrasts (young vs. old, native vs. foreign, gay vs. straight, promiscuous vs. monogamous, etc.), you could be forgiven for being left confused as to what the point is. The subplot about the troubled Turkish past of one of Michele's neighbours (Serra Yilmaz) seems to have no relevance at all beyond the director's provenance. And while the film purports to portray Antonia's development into a newly independent woman, it was not at all clear what part her meeting with Michele and company had to play in this. Without giving away the details of the ending, it is fair to say that the one obvious change in her life has nothing to do with her husband's past infidelity, and she would have undergone it no matter whether she had found out about Michele or not.

So if 'Le Fate Ignoranti' is about a woman's journey, then almost everything that happens in it is a wild deviation from the main road – which would be entirely excusable, were it not for the plodding pace and uneven plotting.

It's Got: An (unintentionally) funny, rewind-inducing accident scene, in which, thanks to some ill-judged computer effects, Massimo is seen literally ping-ponging from the bonnet of one speeding car to another - and a scene in which Michele asks Antonia (in Italian) Do you need subtitles?.

It Needs: It needs: Much greater economy in its script and editing. The sequence where Antonia walks up and down streets looking for an address, for example, lasts over a minute with no real justification, and there are too many meandering conversations and subplots.

DVD Extras Extras include the original trailer (plus trailers for three other PPR releases), seven behind-the-scenes sequences that inform the viewer of nothing bar the sheer tedium on the average drama set, a behind-the-scenes sequence showing the unremarkable wire stuntwork filmed on a matte background for Massimos accident. There is no commentary, and the extras menus are unusually difficult to navigate owing to an almost invisible cursor. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

All About My Mother, Far From Heaven

Summary

Good acting and production design are not enough to conceal the dirty little secret that 'Le Fate Ignoranti' has a plodding pace, unengaging characters and a meandering plot.

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