Published August 30, 2002
In the July/August number of the American Spectator I wrote a piece (“Teaching the Gorillas”) about the curious phenomenon of the sexual reinvention of the world by young people in the movies who present themselves to us as being stunned — and therefore presumably expecting us to be stunned as well — when promiscuity, say, or infidelity doesn’t work out for them as the brilliantly clever idea they apparently thought it was. But at least in a movie like The Last Kiss (L’Ultimo bacio) by Gabriele Muccino, the reinvention also involves a rediscovery of something resembling traditional sexual morality.
In this it resembles movies like A Merry War or Metroland in which the point is to reassure young men with a taste for adventure, both sexual and otherwise, that getting married and having children is all perfectly normal. Who knew? At the beginning of the film, Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) and Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who have been living together for three years, announce at a family dinner that they are expecting a baby. After the sexual revolution, no one is quite sure how to greet this announcement. Carlo is rather shamefaced and (as we realize from his voiceover) feeling trapped, Giulia’s parents Anna (Stefania Sandrelli) and Emilio (Luigi Diberti), appear stunned, though they quickly overcome it and try to look happy. That night the news precipitates a crisis in their marriage. Only Giulia seems quite happy about the new arrival — to the point where she can’t see the problems looming ahead.
What the baby does to Giulia’s family, the wedding of Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino) does to Carlo’s circle of 30ish friends. Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti) has a baby with Livia (Sabrina Impacciatore), the girl he is living with, but the child has proven too much of a strain on their relationship and he longs to escape. Encouraging him in this fantasy are Alberto (Marco Cocci) and Paolo (Claudio Santamaria), who dream of sailing to Turkey or crossing the Sahara on motorbikes. Paolo is also obsessing about Arianna (Regina Orioli), the girl who has dumped him, and resisting the pressures to join the family business, a shop selling religious statuary, as his father lies dying.
At the wedding, Carlo spots a beautiful high school student, Francesca (Martina Stella), who makes goo-goo eyes at him just as Giulia is pressuring him into buying a house and otherwise putting down roots. Not surprisingly, she becomes to him the symbol of his vanishing freedom, and he pursues an assignation with her almost somnambulistically as Giulia busies herself about the baby — and tells Carlo that if he ever cheats on her she will kill him. Meanwhile, Anna — Giulia’s mother, remember? — is trying to work up the gumption to leave Emilio, her husband of 30 years and a psychiatrist, or at least to have an affair to punish him for his indifference to her. Rather smugly, he dares her to it, saying she couldn’t get along without him.
Everything that happens from this point on acts as a kind of parable in illustration of the reasons for traditional sexual morality — though perhaps without intending it — which may be one reason why so many critics (at least American ones) seem not to have liked it very much. Though grateful for its attempt to be uplifting about marriage and families — particularly in a country with such a disastrously low birth-rate as Italy’s — I was not overly impressed myself and found it rather difficult to take seriously this bunch of young blades with (apparently) no moral sense at all and only the vaguest of feelings that something might be missing. Carlo, for instance, as he is proposing to himself a dalliance with Francesca says in voiceover: “Remember you’ll be a father six months from now and thoughts like this aren’t very nice.”
No. Not not nice, Carlo. Wrong. But like Paolo, whose idea of profound moral thought is to say: “I want to start feeling that my life makes some sense,” Carlo hasn’t really got much of an idea of right and wrong — at least not until Giulia chucks him out and he realizes what he is in danger of losing. But then, so many of us get our moral education that way that we can only approve when Marco’s wife pronounces the defiant banality that is the film’s moral: “Normality is the true revolution.” Though perhaps no great self-congratulation is in order just because “our eternal adolescence is over” to have realized that much is something, after all.