Desert Hearts

Loss is a lonely hunter. Like Charlotte Rampling's self-deceiving widow in François Ozon's Under the Sand, Margherita Buy's Antonia, the mid-life babe of Ferzan Ozpetek's His Secret Life (Fate Ignoranti) is jolted out of her warmly routinized marriage by the sudden death of her husband. But unlike Rampling's Marie, whose circumstances allow her to live in denial of loss, Antonia must confront in short order the fact that not only is her Massimo gone, but that she is not the only intimate he's left behind—a favorite painting's inscription reveals a longtime lover, one pseudonymous "Ignorant Fairy."

When, in a state of shell-shocked patrician grace, Antonia resolutely returns the painting, she finds that Massimo's innamoratois actually a man. In the course of the mourners' initial tango, the equally bereaved Michele (Stefano Accorsi) introduces Antonia to her late husband's roiling sub-rosa sensual universe, which has at its epicenter a bustling flat full of working-class misfits who live and love as a makeshift family.

At points, Ozpetek's tale of socio-sexual epiphany suffers from the same walk-on-the-wild-side primitivism of his erotically questing 1997 debut, Steam: The Turkish Bath. But more important than the tame Almodóvarian omnisexuality and bittersweet lessons in day-seizing we learn from stock marginalized types—the transsexual, the hard-luck dame, the manic-panic'd mother figure, and Michele's seeming charge, an AIDS-riven shut-in—is the sense of the post-traumatic duo as stringless kites. It's this memory-as-identity obviation that gives Secret Life its intermittent unease, reaffirming that long-held illusions are indeed reality, and that erasing them recasts the self. And it's this existential gerrymandering that's most compelling. In this sense, Michele and Antonia hold the keys to each other's recovery.

Details

His Secret Life
Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek
Written by Ferzan Ozpetek and Gianni Romoli
Strand
Opens September 20

Don't Ask Don't Tell
Directed by Doug Miles
Written by Tex Hauser
Click IV
Opens September 20, at Cinema Village

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