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Movie Review

A Mystery Unfolds in 'His Secret Life'

Director Ferzan Ozpetek explores the ambiguities of sexual orientation in graceful story about a wife's search for truth.

October 04, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Turkish filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek, long based in Italy, follows up his beautiful, seductive debut feature "Steam: The Turkish Bath" with the equally impressive "His Secret Life," another perceptive probe into the complexities and ambiguities of sexual identity.

Margherita Buy stars as Antonia, an attractive woman of perhaps 40. For 15 years she has been married to Massimo (Andrea Renzi), an archetypal virile and dashing Latin lover type. She was stunned to wind up with such a handsome husband and remains dazzled, content to live in his shadow, having even given up medical school to marry him. For his part, Massimo continues to be not only flirtatious and charming toward her, but prospers as a successful businessman. The couple live in a large modern home outside Rome.

Antonia, who works in a medical lab, is so happy with Massimo that she has long accepted that his clearly high-power career demands much of his time. The absences may be numerous and frequent, but Massimo knows just how to make Antonia glad to have him back when he returns. Then one day, in a rush, he steps out into traffic and is instantly killed by a passing car.

The devastated Antonia withdraws deeply into herself. She cannot know she is about to embark upon a wholly unexpected journey of self-discovery. Among the belongings Antonia in time collects from Massimo's office is a painting with a loving message on its back signed by an unfamiliar name. She concludes that it must be a gift from a secret mistress of her late husband and feels a need to track her down, fearing that maybe she didn't really know the man she loved as well as she thought she did.

Her detective work takes her to a huge old apartment house in the picturesque Ostiense district in the heart of Rome. There Antonia is met coldly by Michele (Stefano Accorsi); she insists on meeting his sister, certain that she has been Massimo's mistress. Antonia's beautiful, elegant and far more worldly mother, Veronica (Erica Blanc), has already told her daughter that she's never been very observant, and it's true. Despite the fact that Michele's home is a gathering place for gays and lesbians, it just doesn't sink in with Antonia that there is no sister, that he has been Massimo's lover for seven years.

Buy is an accomplished actress, and this is a big, juicy role. What gives "His Secret Life" such a sharp edge above all is that we see through Antonia's eyes as she discovers what gay life is about--the eyes of a woman whose only contact with gay men is when she tests them for HIV. Ozpetek is too skillful a filmmaker to lapse into making a bald statement about gay society and instead reveals what Michele and his life are like as a prelude to what happens with him and with Antonia as both begin to put their grief behind them. This graceful and wise film moves to its denouement with subtlety and, at its end, strikes a note that seems just right for all that has gone before.

*

Unrated. Times guidelines: complex mature themes.

'His Secret Life'

Margherita Buy...Antonia

Stefano Accorsi...Michele

Serra Yilmaz...Serra

Andrea Renzi...Massimo

A Strand Releasing presentation. Director Ferzan Ozpetek. Producers Tilde Corsi & Gianni Romoli. Screenplay Romoli & Ozpetek. Cinematography Pasquale Mari. Editor Patrizio Marone. Music Andrea Guerra. Costumes Catia Dottori. Production designer Bruno Cesari. In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Exclusively at the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 934-2944.

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