REVIEW: L’ultimo bacio [The Last Kiss] [2001]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 115 minutes | Release Date: February 2nd, 2001 (Italy)
Studio: Medusa Distribuzione / THINKFilm
Director(s): Gabriele Muccino
Writer(s): Gabriele Muccino

“With pounds of cellulite and all your insecurities”

I really want to love Gabriele Muccino‘s Italian blockbuster of a rom-com L’ultimo bacio [The Last Kiss] because it is funny, charming, complicated, and hopeful. My issue lies in the fact that it’s also awful in its depictions of selfish ego and weak indifference. Maybe this is a product of its European creation. Maybe extramarital affairs are commonplace enough in Italy to be able to laugh them off and accept them as a casualty of war, but I’d be lying if I said it’s easy to swallow for this American. The blow-up, emotionally high insanity sparks from Carlo’s (Stefano Accorsi) infidelities and yet the soon-to-be mother of his unborn child Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is the only one angry. Everyone else tells her to forgive him for the baby.

There’s so much wrong with this. I get that her parents are dealing with their own tumult as Anna (Stefania Sandrelli) threatens to leave Emilio (Luigi Diberti) for the umpteenth time and also willing admits her own affair with Eugenio (Sergio Castellitto) three years prior. But suddenly being cheated on gets shone as some sort of warped rite of passage. Only in the aftermath and its pain do the women understand how accepting the life they didn’t want is their sole choice and the men realize how good they have it despite their significant other’s love coming in “small ways” rather than grand gestures. Talk about broad stereotypes that facilitate an archaic way of life. Perhaps it would make sense if the film were set in the 1950s.

Since Muccino’s film is contemporary circa 2001, it renders its men chauvinist brats deserving their sorrow and women as subservient creatures unable to muster the energy to kick inconsiderate beaus to the curb. It’s impossible to pull for the couples onscreen as far as finding happiness because we know the women (especially Giulia) merit the freedom to find better men. Maybe there’s strength in forgiving adulterers (after all, in Anna’s case she’s the one at fault physically even if Emilio has kept her at arm’s length emotionally for decades), but not more than cutting ties does. Cheating once inevitably means he/she always possesses the potential to cheat again. So is The Last Kiss optimistic in its idea of reform or pessimistic in its making reform a necessity?

Both choices are depressing and the plot can’t help buckling under the weight of its cavalier description of love. Call me naïve if you must, but the only true “happy ending” I saw was the lot of them ending up single by the conclusion. That obviously won’t happen as love is too binding and blinding to agree with pragmatic expectations, but the results do force a modicum of respect to be lost for some. “Mistakes” are one thing, malicious lies about actions you tell yourself are wrong despite doing them anyway are premeditated and inexcusable. If Muccino went farcical we could laugh at the over-the-top melodrama as knowing comedy. Since he doesn’t, however, this idea of settling for horrible people becomes its truth. He believes this is normalcy.

I can think of no more dangerous reality. We can’t all be happily satisfied with our soul mate a la Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino) and his wife, but we shouldn’t give up the hope of finding him/her in the meantime. In this way I had to admire Adriano’s (Giorgio Pasotti) matter-of-factness when it came to his relationship strife with Livia (Sabrina Impacciatore). He becomes the one character who understands that divorce may be better for the child than a loveless marriage he/she will grow to resent. If there’s no way to reconcile or repair, pretending proves an insufficient bandage for all involved. Maybe if he goes off to Africa with ladies’ man Alberto (Marco Cocci) and lost Paolo (Claudio Santamaria), he’ll find personal joy to then restart his life.

Alberto is the sole character who knows what he wants because he isn’t in love. His interactions with women are purely sexual and he’s content with no-strings attached. You can respect him for knowing this and not pretending otherwise to lead someone on, but he’s hardly a role model. Paolo, on-the-other-hand, is so uncertain of everything that he can’t help investing in things too robustly, good or bad. He becomes a stalker towards ex-girlfriend Arianna (Regina Orioli), estranged from his dying father, and resentful of an uncle who seemingly knows what’s best despite those desires feeling more like a prison rather than utopia. If any part of the film resonates above the rest it’s this notion that outsiders know what’s best. They don’t. That decision is yours alone.

Love brings crisis—this is an unavoidable fact. Whether you’re turning thirty like Carlo and his friends or sixty like Anna, love will always be the greatest and worst thing for you. It consumes you throughout your life, the potency it holds over eighteen-year old Francesca (Martina Stella) lusting over Carlo doesn’t lessen with age. Paolo feels the pangs of its absence romantically (Arianna) and platonically (his father) while Anna would finally drop everything if her former lover Eugenio asked. Love renders us into schoolboys and girls, captivates our attention, and makes us do stupid things. All this is true and Muccino does a wonderful job weaving love’s ubiquitous tragedies amongst his sprawling cast, but I wish he’d let heads prevail over hearts more than they do.

I’m not so naïve to think this doesn’t happen. Co-dependency is real and some discover imperfect love is better than no love. I just don’t like the idea of Muccino accepting this as gospel to the point of letting acquiescence against better judgment provide his “happily ever after”. It makes me weep for the way defeatist attitudes can prove so prevalent as to become the norm. Despite the narrator is such a deplorable human—it’s horrid to think of his actions as mere fallibility and therefore relatable—the audience finds itself rejoicing in his potential successes in life and love. But no matter how hard I try to believe it’s all satire, the reality ends up showing The Last Kiss as another example of bad guys finishing first.

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