Wednesday, March 24, 2010

David's Birthday (Il compleanno)

The third film in Melbourne Queer Film Festival that I attended was the melodrama David's Birthday (Il compleanno) . At the end of the film, I was left with a very mixed reaction: which remains my reaction.

The Festival blurb for the film said:
Two forty-something married couples head to the sunny Italian coast for the perfect holiday destination. A large spacious house, with a golden sand beach on the doorstep, awaits. Diego and Shary are enjoying the ‘empty nest’ quiet life, while Matteo and Francesca’s relationship appears serene and calm. Small squabbles are put aside with the arrival of Diego and Shary’s young and buff son, David, a model of sumptuous beauty. It soon becomes apparent that Matteo – whilst clearly passionate with his wife – has one eye on his friends' son.
In the long tradition of quality European cinema, David’s Birthday is pitch perfect with its nuanced plot, understated dialogue and dramatic tension. As Matteo’s internal life unravels, cleverly hinted at through scenes of him treating a patient in his job as a psychoanalyst, the film takes on shards of Death In Venice (1971) and American Beauty (1999). Against the operatic score of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, David’s Birthday delivers perhaps cinema history’s most tensely crafted climax. Even if you know it’s coming, it’s nail-biting stuff all the same.
Even without reading the blurb, it is obvious as the film progresses that it is not going to end well, even though how it actually ends is still a shock.

The characters are flawed, but vivid: except for David himself who is essentially an amiable beauty and so a more bland character than the rest. Because of my personal history, I am deeply suspicious of youthful beauty (and the attraction to it), so perhaps the story did not resonate with me as it might. I was also left with a "well, what happens next?" reaction. There were some wittily funny moments, the film held your interest and one cannot deny the power of the final performances but the ambiguity and uncertainty of my reaction to the film ultimately flows from it not engaging the viewer in the central characters as it needed to.

12 comments:

  1. This sounds a lot like Mulligans, though I can't WAIT to see it.

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  2. Haven't seen Mulligans, so cannot comment. (I also noticed I, for some unaccountable reason, described it as 'documentary', which it is not and have corrected. I wrote a lot of reviews from the Festival, calling the film a 'documentary' must have slipped through somehow.)

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  3. Just watched it. One of the most amazing films I've seen in years. Bravo from the Midwest, USA.

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  4. I just saw this movie and I suspect that something intimate had transgressed with the Uncle and David in the past...and his mysterious silence throughout the movie and his sudden desire to leave and take David with him is suspect. It seems as if Leonard's life foreshadows Matteo's and ends up going down the same road.

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  5. That is a thoughtful reading of the film, thank you.

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  6. I too felt that there was something strange that happened between the uncle and David. Further, it seemed to me that David's mother sensed something between David and Matteo when she mentioned to Diego at one point in the film that he "wasnt looking after David" or something to that effect. The ending was silly for such a well-paced and thoughtful film. It deserved more and left me feeling like the icing was left off the cake.

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  7. Just watched it and felt like it was funded by the Catholic Church to teach Italian men that if you have a gay affair then terrible consequences await.

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  8. I watched the movie more than seven times. It is extremely beautiful. The theme of forbidden and fatal love, engulfed in a frame of Wagner's tragisc opera influenced by Schopenhauer's ideas on suffering, shows how some desires can be painful and destructives in some cases. Massimo Poggio was more than great, I have never seen such an actor who could represent the tense of such deep ambivelant emotions(even the anger resultant from frustration (when he drunk too much), even in his body language (the ecstacy when he was trying to gratify his long-repressed urgesand the hesitation before leaning his head on David's back on the bicycle).He could transfer his feelings to me, and I could feel his suffering. And it made me feel sad that Matteo did not get the chance to reach the end of the intercourse, which was interrputed unsatisfied.

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  9. Brilliant film. I thought the characters were perfectly drawn; no flaws whatsoever - other than those in their own characters. Very much influenced by Death In Venice. I don't agree that there had been anything between Davide and Leonard, though. Leonard was conscious of Mateo's attraction to Davide. When Davide decides not to go with him to Sicily Leonard knows intuitively that there will be a bad end.

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