THE LAST KISS
written and directed by Gabriele Muccino
with Stefano Accorsi and space Giovanna Mezzogiorno
opens Sept. 20 at Seven Gables
"FIDELITY is utopia."
The line is delivered in a whisper, but Gabriele Muccino makes sure to offer it with all the gravity of a chiseled stone tablet. While styled after the classic Italian sex farce (it borrows inspiration and cast member Stefania Sandrelli from 1961's Divorce Italian Style), The Last Kiss embraces rather than flees the institution of marriage.
If that sounds like a recipe sure to earn a seal of approval from Bible-beating conservatives, it's not. Muccino—recently wed himself, incidentally—may tip his hand in the end, but moralizing is not his primary concern. Instead, Kiss focuses a glaring spotlight on the pitfalls inherent in any long-term relationship, plus the tape and strings sometimes necessary to hold even the best of them together.
Kiss follows several couples in crisis, the most central being the handsome Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) and the beautiful Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), a 30-ish pair whose lives are upended when 18-year-old bombshell Francesca—there are lots of attractive people in this film—sets her sites on Carlo. Unnerved by Giulia's pregnancy, Carlo looks upon his temptress not only as an object of desire but a last ticket to freedom. The pangs suffered by Carlo and his friends are all typical—if not timeless—male identity issues to be sure, but Muccino and his talented ensemble cover them from enough angles that the approach feels fresh. Though the familiar male "Peter Pan syndrome" receives the bulk of attention (Carlo and pals eventually pack their complaints into a camper and hit the open strada), Kiss includes a mature female perspective as Giulia's mother (Sandrelli) seeks escape from her stuffy marriage.
Kiss' success also rests in its universality. For all of its screaming, sobbing, gesticulating, and face slapping, there's nothing uniquely "Italian" about it. Uncomfortable truths about human nature provide the foundation for both Kiss' finest comedic and dramatic moments.
The film's open-ended quality also enhances its appeal—Muccino delivers his verdict, but the evidence he presents could just as easily be used to support a very different viewpoint. It's not giving away much to reveal that there's a happy ending, but it's not a simple ending. Reconciliation hinges on deception, which is consistent with Muccino's theme that compromise, and sometimes hypocrisy, are necessary parts of an enduring relationship. Those who find that message unacceptable—or insufficiently romantic—aren't likely to rush to the nearest altar. But Muccino's skillful enough in presenting his case that he just might convince you of his really radical notion:
"Normality is the real revolution." Yikes.