Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stefano Accorsi, Martina Stella, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Stefania Sandrelli, Marco Cocci, Pierfrancesco Favino, Sabrina Impacciatore, Regina Orioli, Giorgio Pasotti, Daniela Piazza, Claudio Santamaria, Luigi Diberti, Peiro Natoli, Vittorio Amandola
Written by: Gabriele Muccino
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality and some drug use
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 115
Date: 02/02/2001

The Last Kiss (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

And the Cheat Goes On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new Italian film The Last Kiss argues that -- for the most part -- men will try to hold on to the freedom of adolescence as long as they can, while women will give it up at the drop of a hat. The male characters in the film believe that you're not really old until you hit 40 and you should be able to play -- as boys will play -- until then.

I'm not sure how it will affect other viewers, both older and younger, but for me it manages to tackle head-on with grace and intelligence, many of the issues that have been plaguing my friends and myself at our age. The Last Kiss picked me up, swung me around, and dropped me back in my seat with more emotional force than any other recent film.

The movie focuses on four friends, with special attention spent on Carlo (Stefano Accorsi). Carlo's beautiful wife Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is pregnant and Carlo is slowly beginning to panic. His close friend Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti) already has a baby, and he comes brimming more with warnings than with congratulations or advice.

Adriano suffers because his relationship with his wife has not been the same since the baby. "We haven't had sex in seven months," he complains. Moreover, she constantly shrieks at him over anything she can think of.

Another friend, Paolo (Claudio Santamaria), is depressed because his father is on his deathbed and Paolo is expected to take over the family business. He's also obsessed with a former girlfriend, almost to the point that he's stalking her. He barges into her apartment while she's having sex with another man.

Finally, we have Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino), the only one of the group who seems happy. The only problem Marco has is to occasionally lie to the many different girls he beds on a nightly basis.

The four friends and their various significant others go to the wedding of a fifth friend. There, Carlo meets a devastatingly beautiful 18 year-old named Francesca (Martina Stella), who smiles and flirts with him. She invites him to pick her up after school the next day.

Now, the words "high school" should have set off alarm bells for Carlo, but we're talking goddess material. We're talking eyelashes an inch long and a smile that could end wars and then start them all over again. As if possessed by a thousand generations of lovers, Francesca manages to smile at the right moment, say just the right thing, and put her arms around Carlo's neck at just the right second. I could not blame Carlo a bit for doing the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, the remaining three friends have cooked up a plan to take off and drive all over Europe looking for adventures and for something different. Carlo is invited, of course, but he's got too much going on to really consider their offer.

Now none of this would be out of the ordinary if not for the consummate skill of writer/director Gabriele Muccino in putting The Last Kiss together. It plays like a symphony of drums, pumping like the pistons on a racecar. He assembles different chunks of plot happening at the same time and cuts back and forth with the precise rhythm of shifting gears.

The slowly mounting music helps, of course. The Last Kiss plays like the Speed or the Run Lola Run of Italian art house movies.

In one sequence, one of the locations is a birthday party for Francesca's best friend. Muccino is canny enough to temporarily interrupt the normal music, replacing it with loud, youthful party music. It only increases the tension.

Through this method, Muccino keeps you riveted, sweating on the edge of your seat throughout. Unfortunately for Carlo, Paolo's father dies on the night of his big date. Giulia goes to visit and finds out that her husband is not where he says he was. She begins to panic, passing through fits of anger and horror, and she's terrifying -- it's a brilliant performance. Carlo's ecstasy is destroyed in advance because we know what kind of trouble he's going to be in.

The Last Kiss is not exactly an enjoyable experience. It's not like watching a James Bond flick or even a Fellini movie. It's excruciating, exhilarating, exhausting, and it's not the type of movie I'd want to see twice. But I'm very glad I saw it once.

Just in case I've made it sound like Muccino's a male chauvinist, allowing his male characters to revel in their insecurities and immaturities, let me just carefully reveal that the door swings both ways in The Last Kiss. His final, callous joke reminds us that life is not fair, but absolutely, abominably fair at the same time.

DVD Details: Not much here except multiple subtitle options.

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