Becoming Bond: an affable light comedy biography of one-time James Bond actor

Josh Greenbaum, “Becoming Bond” (2017)

Part-fictional comedy re-enactment, part-biography, this is a very affable review of Australian actor George Lazenby’s early life up to and including the period when he played James Bond in the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, one of the most beloved and esteemed films in the entire James Bond series of spy movies. It takes the structure of an extended interview with Lazenby himself in which he talks about his childhood, his relationships with girlfriends from early in his adolescence onwards, and his early career as a car salesman, paralleled by re-enactments of significant moments of his life when opportunities out of the blue fall into his lap and he seizes them because they seem like fun and promise adventure. The film moves leisurely – perhaps a bit too leisurely, because the main reason I imagine people would watch this film is to find out how a former car salesman manages to land the movie role of the century with no acting experience or qualifications, and what qualities he must have had to land such a role – with an air of bemused bedazzlement which one imagines Lazenby carried with him during those heady days in the 1960s when he moved to London in pursuit of a girlfriend, took up modelling and through sheer accident met a movie agent who put him in contact with the producer and director of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Split into thirteen chapters, each one with a title that spoofs a James Bond film, the film rolls its way through Lazenby’s various escapades, all illustrated with Lazenby’s droll reminiscences which may be true or not. While the film doesn’t drill deep down into Lazenby’s psychology and motivations for doing the things he does, the impression that for Lazenby, life is a big adventure that you roll with is strong. Of course the big moment when Lazenby explains why he walked away from the Bond films after completing “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” eventually comes and Lazenby’s reason, which may be self-justification on his part, seems quite reasonable given the way his early life has unfolded so far: he’s a man who’ll try anything once but never more than once, a man who can’t and won’t be tied down to meeting others’ expectations. After a fitful acting career, Lazenby returns to Australia, becomes involved in real estate investment and goes through two marriages (the second of which was to famous US tennis player Pam Shriver) with two sets of children.

The hokey re-enactment of Lazenby’s early years in Australia and London, in which Australia in the 1940s-50s appears as romanticised kitsch and people in London drive cars with the steering wheel mounted on the left-hand side of the vehicle, is marred by awkward and inconsistent acting from Josh Lawson playing Lazenby. Jane Seymour as the movie agent is the stand-out of the cast in the re-enactment scenes.

The film might have worked better if the narrative were more streamlined and less meandering, at the cost perhaps of one of its themes: that of its protagonist’s life as a Great Australian Yarn of tall stories, opportunities that fall out of the sky into his lap and how, through all the adventures he has, he manages to remain a simple and basically well-meaning character with simple, down-to-earth values. Lazenby may not be particularly profound, his early ignorance can be jaw-dropping and his treatment of his girlfriends leaves much to be desired. Yet he appears to have intuited when people are trying to exploit him and own him, and to walk away from what could have been his ruin despite the fame and wealth that beckoned. Of course the reality was different: his agent convinced him that the Bond films had run their course and were becoming outdated.

The film works as light entertainment rather than as a straight biography or documentary and viewers must not expect to take it seriously.

Death of a Ladies’ Man: a tale of loss, addiction and redemption but not much character change

Matt Bissonnette, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (2020)

Inspired by the poetry and songs of Canadian poet / novelist / singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, some of whose songs grace the film as its musical soundtrack, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” follows hard-drinking Montreal university professor Sam O’Shea (Gabriel Byrne) whose life starts on a series of strange and unexpected turns beginning with finding his second wife Linda in flagrante delicto with a boyfriend. Their marriage broken down and heading for divorce, O’Shea starts seeing strange things: his long-dead father Ben (Brian Gleeson) turns up for one-on-one chats, he meets Frankenstein’s monster in a bar and a tiger-headed waitress in a restaurant. Perhaps he is under stress or having alcoholic delusions; a visit to his GP reveals a terminal brain tumour and O’Shea realises there are dreams he had been putting off a long time and which now demand fulfilment. Shoving his undergraduate literature classes off onto a colleague, O’Shea contacts and tells his ex-wife Genevieve (Suzanne Clement) and estranged children Layton (Antoine Olivier Pilon) and Josée (Karelle Tremblay) that he’s going back to Ireland to write his first novel. The children themselves need support – Layton has come out as gay and is in his first relationship with a man, and Josée is in a destructive relationship with a heroin junkie – but O’Shea flies off to Ireland and back to his childhood home in a small rural community where he almost promptly takes up with a young woman, Charlotte (Jessica Paré) and incurs the murderous wrath of a local man keen on her.

The giddy plot with its various sub-plots and their unexpected (if not quite plausible) resolutions works thanks in part to Byrne’s rumpled ease and charm as the otherwise self-absorbed and egotistical O’Shea as he leaves behind a trail of damaged relationships with consequences ranging from upset to anger to near murder. The film moves at a steady pace and the action is structured in three chapters that keep the various sub-plots separate so the plot appears more orderly than chaotic. Everything revolves around O’Shea, reflecting his self-absorption, and this means that some sub-plots go only so far and are never fully developed: the brain tumour part remains in the background and Layton’s sexuality and how this affects his relationship with O’Shea also stay dormant. How O’Shea’s family rallies around him and then how O’Shea manages to help Josée deal with her heroin addiction and come back to something resembling a normal life is not explored in much detail.

O’Shea’s chats with Dad reveal a childhood of trauma and loss that may underlie his womanising and alcohol addictions, leading to both his marriage breakdowns and his strained relationship with his children. The pattern of abandonment, trauma and loss has afflicted two generations in O’Shea’s family and threatens Josée’s health and life. Random incidents though work out to O’Shea’s benefit and eventually he is able to resolve most if not all his troubled conflicts and fulfil his ambitions of writing and publishing his first novel. Tying up loose pieces of his life brings reconciliation with his first family but also brings an unexpected sting.

The film labours under several themes: family trauma and loss that repeat through the generations; and the randomness of life and how it can derail order and cause crises but also lead perhaps to insight, purpose and eventually redemption. O’Shea eventually accepts and comes to terms with his delusions and the prospect of death itself. Things though tend to happen in such a way as to suggest that O’Shea is let off the hook for a great many serious occurrences and perhaps any lessons he might learn don’t penetrate very deeply into his consciousness. He may attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and swear off chasing pretty young women but the film’s general tenor as musical comedy / drama seems a bit too light-hearted to allow much character development and maturation in our hero. At the end of the film O’Shea still seems the same man he was at the beginning, with no great insights into his character and little understanding of how his childhood of abandonment and loss laid the foundation for his relationships with women and his children. He continually nags his ghost father about what happened to his mother and why she left the family even after his father admits he has no idea, and at no point during the film does O’Shea appear to acknowledge that whatever might have driven his mother to abandon him might be related to whatever drove him to leave Ireland: the lack of opportunity, the claustrophobic, even paranoiac nature of life in rural Ireland for those who didn’t conform to pre-1990s Irish social traditions.

The best part of the film is its scenery set in Montreal and rural Ireland which suggests a deeper social context to the dramas playing out in O’Shea’s life: urban Montreal, where comfortable middle-class people struggle to find purpose in dysfunctional lives in a deindustrialised environment and instead find only escapism in addiction, is a significant character in its own right, as is also rural Ireland which at first seems bracing and inviting but turns out to be restrictive and dysfunctional in its own way. That this aspect of the film is more felt than explored may be seen as a weakness but viewers cannot expect the all-too-human cast of characters, with what they already have to cope with, to be able to recognise what is oppressing them and do something about it.

Tora-chan no Makan Mushi: warning children to behave well at work

Kenzo Masaoka, “Tora-chan no Makan Mushi” (1950)

In the last cartoon to feature Tora-chan (Little Tiger) and his friend Miike-chan, the two kittens have grown up a bit and are now working on a cargo ship as a welder and painter respectively. The sailor in charge of them, a buffoon and the butt of many jokes in this cartoon, boards the ship with his monkey and loads his cargo of fireworks onto the ship’s deck. He carelessly tosses aside his cigar and Tora-chan needs at least four attempts (involving a lot of repetition) to tell the sailor that the cigar is about to blow up the fireworks. Sure enough it does and Tora-chan jumps into the sea to enlist the help of several octopuses to squirt ink at the ship to quench the pyrotechnics display.

The animation is much, much better and more detailed and realistic in its backgrounds. The ocean especially is rendered well in its waves and the light reflecting off them. Fish are drawn very well even if the octopus characters aren’t. The characters look a bit more refined in their technical details even if one of them is boorish in behaviour. The animation does well in portraying distance perspective and in characters moving forward from mid-distance in the background.

While there’s a lot of slapstick about and the film does end inconclusively, it at least carries a message about being disciplined at work, working well with one’s colleagues and the consequences of bad behaviour, poor personal habits and not listening to warnings. The sailor gets his comeuppance and presumably will have to spend much more time hauling cargo.

I confess to being quite disappointed in this film and the previous film “Tora-chan to Hanayome” after having seen “Suteneko Tora-chan” which has quite serious themes for a work aimed at families with young children.

Tora-chan to Hanayome: family friction in a crude slapstick cartoon

Kenzo Masaoka, “Tora-chan to Hanayome” (1948)

The last three animated films made by Kenzo Masaoka revolved around the adventures of the kitten Tora-chan (Little Tiger). The first one “Suteneko Tora-chan” addresses the issue of caring for abandoned war orphans in a post-war society ravaged by poverty and urges people to foster and adopt such children to preserve social values, maintain cultural continuity and ultimately strengthen Japanese society. Second film “Tora-chan to Hanayome”, made a year later, is a much more conventional animated film in which Tora-chan and sister Miike-chan are given the responsibility to run interference against Grandfather who has just charged into town to stop his elder grand-daughter (and big sister to Tora-chan and Miike-chan) from marrying. The parents quickly hustle off the big sister to the church leaving the kittens on their own at home. When Grandfather barges into the house, the kittens try all kinds of ruses to stop him from going into the bride’s room. When their efforts fail, Grandfather seizes the kittens and races off to the church to find the wedding party.

While the animation is good if not great, the plot drags on and overdoes the slapstick in a number of scenes. The donkey that is to take the wedding party to the church spends too long preening itself in front of a mirror. In order to keep Grandfather away from the stairs, Miike-chan starts posing a bit provocatively in ways that modern audiences might not condone today. Some characters are not drawn very well and the background scenery often looks crude and hastily done.

Even for a film aimed at children, the plot has large logic holes and its resolution looks unconvincing. We never learn why Grandfather opposed his grand-daughter’s wedding or (spoiler alert) why he changes his mind later. An opportunity for the film-makers to say something about how Japan must adapt to the modern world is lost. At least no-one is badly hurt, everyone is reconciled and Tora-chan and Miike-chan can go back to playing in the sunshine.

Tengu Taiji: a lively and comical animated folk tale from an early Japanese pioneer

Noburu Ofuji aka Fuyo Koyamano, “Tengu Taiji” (1934)

A very comical tale about a town besieged by tengu – dangerous goblin spirits with the characteristics of humans and birds of prey including beaks which in some spirits become unnaturally long noses – and how they are fought off by a lone swordsman and a watch-dog helper gets the cartoon treatment from Noburu Ofuji, one of the first Japanese animators to gain international recognition for his work. The watch-dog allows the tengu to invade the town and carry off one of the performing geisha. A samurai attempts to fight the tengu but they squash him flat on the ground with a door off its hinges. The dog takes the flattened samurai to another swordsman who promptly folds up the samurai into a headcloth, dons it and then (with the watch-dog in tow) hurries after the fleeing tengu. There follows a tremendous battle in which the swordsman eventually cuts down nearly all the tengu and the watch-dog tosses their heads into a quarry. The two race after two spirits carrying the geisha, they rescue her but are confronted by a giant tengu and a crab. The watch-dog rips off a claw and scissors off the tengu’s nose.

The humour is very violent and bawdy and armchair Freudian psychoanalysts will have the time of their lives dissecting the symbolism of the giant tengu’s long nose and the dog cutting it off. Ofuji’s style of animation shows clear influences from US animators Walt Disney and Max Fleischer but the backgrounds and scenery are very Japanese in their details. The characters in the film can clearly be seen as cutouts, part of Ofuji’s preferred animation method. The busy music soundtrack combines both Japanese traditional folk and contemporary Western music of the time.

The film has a very lively character and many visual puns that perhaps poke fun at Japanese social conventions and expectations. The watch-dog makes amends for his earlier fear and becomes a hero. The samurai is brave but ends up ignominiously as a scarf for a more lowly swordsman. For a nine-minute film, this animation packs in a lot of subversion of Japanese culture!

Pinki: a modern fairy-tale of self-discovery through memories of old technology

Hyunsuk Kim, “Pinki” (2018)

Initially looking like a Korean mash-up of Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9” and “Chappie” with The Transformers film series and Joonho Bong’s “The Host”, “Pinki” turns out to be a charming urban fairy-tale about the importance of memories in forming our identities and giving us motivation and purpose in structuring our lives. Korean salaryman Taehwan (Sungchun Han) is chased through the narrow streets of a city neighbourhood by a huge scrap-metal monster (Daekwang Lee) and is almost crushed until a mystery pink-haired girl (Serin Kim) comes between them. The girl and Taehwan manage to get away; in those moments where the junkyard horror is far away, the lass puts Taehwan into a trance that transports him back to his childhood and adolescence in which he is playing with his portable cassette player and later a portable CD player. When the monster catches with the pair and threatens to drag Taehwan’s new friend and saviour away, the businessman must try to figure out the girl’s name to save her from the monster’s clutches by delving back into his childhood memories.

The film is based on an old East Asian idea that items improperly disposed of and forgotten have a way of haunting their owners as ghosts. Only when properly acknowledged and respectfully let go – which may mean also honouring the role they played in their owners’ lives in the past – will these old items stop plaguing their owners. There are other themes present in “Pinki”: through rediscovering his precious pink cassette player, affectionately called Pinki, Taehwan rediscovers his youth, and all the feelings, motivations and ambitions he had then. Viewers may see the inklings of a transformation from everyday generic office-worker to an individual more fully in control of his life and his destiny, one who has rediscovered his childhood imagination with the objects of that childhood and the memories they evoke. There may also be a gentle reminder that precious items – and people, animals and plants as well – should be valued and not given up for trash when their immediate utility has passed.

The film is notable for good acting with very minimal dialogue. Characters establish themselves through their actions and the decisions they make. Initially Taehwan is a coward, an empty vessel, in abandoning the girl and running for his life from the monster; he later becomes a hero when he throws himself between the monster and the girl once he understand the girl’s importance to him. The other characters – the girl and the monster – are not so clear-cut and are one-dimensional but their roles turn out to be those of teachers and mentors to Taehwan, urging him to take control of his life by remembering where he came from. As with so many science fiction short films picked up by the DUST channel, there is a twist in the plot but for once it’s a twist with a happy ending.

Final Offer: implausible plot made enjoyable by great acting and fast minimal dialogue

Mark Slutsky, “Final Offer” (2018)

The premise is the height of implausibility but great acting from Aaron Abrams and Anna Hopkins as protagonist and antagonist lawyers make the film enjoyable to watch. Henry (Abrams), an alcoholic traffic ticket attorney, is picked up by mystery lady Olivia (Hopkins) at a bar; next thing he knows when he wakes up, he is in a windowless room with Olivia who presents him with the biggest deal in his life. He has been chosen to represent the human species to negotiate and sign away the Earth’s water resources to a giant space-fish species whom Olivia represents. Naturally Henry is horrified and refuses to sign anything but he has no choice: he has only a few minutes to agree and to sign the deal, and the document itself is the size of a legal textbook.

At least Abrams and Hopkins have good chemistry and they also have an advantage in having worked with Slutsky previously. Abrams deftly makes Henry quite plausible as a drunken and rather sleazy attorney down on his luck through the demon drink for much of the film, and then suddenly give his character a razor-sharp mind that finds the crucial flaw in the document that (spoiler alert) scuppers the whole deal. Olivia’s face falls and the space-fish client, seen through a window that opens up in a far wall, rumbles angrily.

The big surprise is that, having defeated Olivia and the alien, Abrams proposes a date with his attractive rival who may or may not be human. This opens up the possibility of a series of short films in which Abrams finds himself doing battle either at the negotiating table or in a courtroom with extraterrestrial judges, lawyers and their equally xenomorphic clients in situations where some aspect of the Earth or its solar system is up for grabs in dubious proposals. Maybe we should stay tuned.

All flash and style but little substance in “Occupation: Rainfall”

Luke Sparke, “Occupation: Rainfall” (2020)

Here’s a brisk and flashy science fiction action film done on a small budget with plenty of Australian bravado and no little ambition to prove that the Australian film industry can compete with the big guns in Hollywood. The film is the sequel to the even lower-budgeted “Occupation” in which Kali aliens first landed in Australia and humans began forming resistance cells to fight them off. The action in “… Rainfall” takes place a number of years later after intense war between the Kali and the humans has left Sydney a smouldering wreck, the aliens having done their best to obliterate decades of bad urban planning and the humans living in the sewers like rats. Refugees, human and Kali alike (some Kali having decided to become allies of the humans), have come into the sewers but the extent to which they can live in peace varies, with some humans being more accommodating than others. The Australian military command discover from some aliens that the Kali enemy in the skies is planning a final offensive and is also seeking a mystery object hidden somewhere near the former US military base known as Pine Gap, in central Australia. The humans decide to evacuate everyone out to refuge in the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney and to send a team out to Pine Gap to find the object before the Kali enemy does.

The film then splits into two parallel plots, one in which the Sydneysiders just manage to reach their Blue Mountains haven, having narrowly escaped being blown up along with what remains of Sydney … amazing that the substandard buildings in Sydney managed to resist years of bombardment by aliens wielding far superior technology and firepower than what can be mustered by humans … and the other being a good cop / bad cop plot in which human Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and the Kali alien nicknamed “Gary” (Lawrence Makoare) must put aside their mutual suspicions and prejudices in order to work together and succeed in their mission to reach Pine Gap and discover what it is that the enemy wants. With stowaway Marcus (Trystan Go) in tow, Matt and Gary fight the Kali in an improbable aerial battle and take on a huge alien spider before finding refuge with a group of humans living in a country settlement. They meet the Bartletts (Temuera Morrison and Izzy Stevens) who decide to accompany the trio on their mission to Pine Gap.

In the meantime the Sydney refugees must contend with their own internal quarrels between Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies), who rules the Blue Mountains haven like a fascist leader and who has sent all the aliens into underground cells where they are starved, tortured and experimented on by people loyal to Hayes, and the more compassionate humans led by Amelia (Jet Tranter), the older sister of Marcus, and Abraham (David Roberts).

The plots run at a brisk pace and are very straightforward in execution with no twists, save for one where Matt, Gary and their followers reach Pine Gap and discover two loopy American misfits (Ken Jeong and Jason Isaacs) running the place. There are continuity issues – how are Matt, Gary and their team able to reach Pine Gap in a matter of two or three days through rugged countryside even with the help of Kali alien horse substitutes? – and both plots are heavy on delivering moral messages about tolerance, how adversaries become brothers in arms through mutual suffering, being humane to all and layering on the identity politics but light on character development and battle strategy. The misfits provide comic relief to the intensity of the film’s actions and main characters although the jive stuff sometimes holds up the action. Fighting sequences have all the reality of video-game battles and Hollywood fights in which the good guys are always vastly outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bad guys yet when the dust settles the good guys are the one standing tall among a heap of fallen baddies. At least the actors put in solid and straight-faced performances with little histrionics in roles that are little more than stereotypes.

While visually impressive, and at times breath-taking in the scale of its sets and the use of Australian landscapes to give the film a distinct style, “… Rainfall” turns out to be an ordinary flick in its story-telling with an ensemble cast not given very much to do. At least the film has plenty of breezy energy and gusto, and barely bogs down for very long.

Tribes: fast, witty lesson on identity politics as tool of control

Nino Aldi, “Tribes” (2020)

In societies obsessed with categorising people on the basis of arbitrary and artificial criteria such as race and gender self-identity, this short film comes as a breath of fresh air satirising separatism as a method of keeping people apart and afraid of one another, all the more so they can be dominated by their real unseen enemy. Three inept thieves working together on the New York subway system – their names are Kevin (Jake Hunter), Ahmed (Adam Waheed) and Jemar (DeStorm Power) – hold up a bunch of commuters with intent to take all their money, watches, jewellery and smartphones. However Jemar sees a couple of passengers are Afro-American like himself, so he makes an exception for them as members of the same historically victimised collective as himself. Ahmed overhears and sees what Jemar is doing and from then on, the film dives into bizarre surrealism as the thieves start splitting up and then reshuffling the passengers, making them run from one end of the carriage to the other, on the basis of various polarities: among others, gays versus straights, cat-lovers versus dog-lovers and “Moonlight” watchers versus “La La Land” viewers. The passengers themselves offer helpful hints as to how they should be divided and several admit having many allegiances, making the three ditzy robbers’ task even more difficult.

What makes this farce work is the fast pace and the tight focus of the three main actors, in particular Power as the black thief and Ahmed as the Arab thief, as they trade quick barbs and witty remarks that ensure the film does not fall too far into silliness or sentimentalism. Quick editing and the film’s focus on close-ups and snappy dialogue, dependent on the thieves’ use of slang, drive the plot energetically. Though the film is short, the action is fast and the goal is to drive home a particular message, the thieves’ characters come across fairly clearly: Jemar and Ahmed do most of the talking and Kevin is not too smart though he gets the best lines. Eventually the thieves realise that they and their victims are all connected in a common humanity and Kevin remarks that many years ago his mother drilled into him this lesson about caring for one’s fellow human being and how hurting others can hurt oneself – just before she shot dead a meth dealer.

The film clearly shows in whose interests identity politics works at its climax when the robbers discover that the train has stopped and someone outside the train has targeted them with red dots of light. The robbers and the passengers are jolted back into the real world as police outside the train take up positions with their weapons. Will the passengers feel pity for the robbers and try to save them – or will they let the young men hang? In this respect the film goes beyond the narrow arena of identity politics and demonstrates briefly how the obsession with identity politics is used by political / economic / social elites to divert people’s attention away from the real issue of who has the power and the control in society.

The Goddess of Fortune: how the passage of time and random events change people and relationships

Ferzan Özpetek, “The Goddess of Fortune / La Dea Fortuna” (2019)

On the surface, this very visually stunning and colourful film appears to be a heart-warming comedy that with some adjustments could be remade by Hollywood. Delve a bit deeper into its narrative and its characters, and the film reveals a great deal about the nature of families, both conventional and unconventional, the passage of time and what it can do to people in love, and the necessity of change and random events in shaking up old patterns and routines, and revealing their weaknesses – and the pain and emotion that emerge as a result. Arturo (Stefano Accorsi) and Alessandro (Edoardo Leo) have been a couple for 15 years despite their different backgrounds, Arturo being a translator who once aspired to be a writer and academic but failed at both, and Alessandro being a plumber who brings in most of their income. The two are part of a happy little community, all living in the same neighbourhood, of various misfits including a married couple, one of whom suffers memory loss and must be reminded of who he is each day, a transgender woman and an African refugee. Arturo and Alessandro’s relationship seems to have hit the rocks for some reason, the two no longer feel the passion they used to have for each other, and they’re starting to get on each other’s nerves. All of a sudden, out of the blue, an old mutual friend, Annamaria (Jasmine Trinca), turns up at a party with her two children Martina (Sara Ciocca) and Sandro (Edoardo Brandi) in tow. She asks Arturo and Alessandro to mind the kids while she stays in hospital for a few days for tests.

As might be expected, the presence of the two children upturns Arturo and Alessandro’s routine and the two men have difficulty adjusting to their roles as foster parents, even though the arrangement is temporary. The neighbours believe that the children will help the two men get on better but in fact the children inadvertently drive the men’s relationship to boiling point. Alessandro discovers Arturo has been having an affair with a painter behind his back. Annamaria is forced to stay in hospital for longer than she had been led to believe. Her health goes from bad to worse and the two men, now unable to stand each other’s company, contact Annamaria’s next of kin – her mother Elena (Barbara Alberti), in Palermo – to see if she can take care of the children. Elena agrees and the men take the kids on a ferry trip to Sicily to meet their grandmother who turns out to be a harsh conservative Catholic matriarch of a noble family in decline.

The plot is not outstanding but what makes it work is the energy and enthusiasm the lead actors throw into their characters. Arturo and Alessandro become much more than two gay men having mid-life crises in their personal and professional lives; they become two very real individuals with particular faults and quirks that they must confront and come to terms with if they are to revive their relationship and continue living together, and at the same time care for Annamaria’s children. Accorsi and Leo give what may well be the performances of their careers in fleshing out these characters and giving them complex emotional lives; Leo in particular does outstanding work in portraying a gruff working-class plumber whose outward toughness belies a sensitive emotional nature. Trinca doesn’t have a lot to do as Annamaria and most of what audiences learn about her come very late in the film when the character has disappeared from the scene. The child actors do what they can but their characters aren’t quite bratty enough to give their foster parents the headaches needed to push their relationship into open conflict so there is something of a forced quality to the plot.

Özpetek’s direction emphasises the use of close-ups to capture emotion and character in his actors’ faces, and makes excellent use of the film’s settings in Rome and Palermo. Rome is portrayed as a vibrant, sunny and colourful place, where people of all backgrounds and proclivities can come together and form impromptu families and communities. Palermo looks rather sleepy and provincial, and the scenes set in Elena’s dilapidated mansion seem to feature Mafia character stereotypes. Here the film takes a dark comedy turn as Arturo and Alessandro discover rather more about Annamaria’s family and what made her run away from home and become a flighty single mum than they would have liked. At this point the film ratchets up to another level and becomes more sombre Gothic drama than comedy as the two men try to save Annamaria’s children from falling into the same fate that befell Annamaria and her long-lost brother.

The film’s resolution is actually rather less happy and secure than it at first appears, and one can imagine after the credits start coming up that the two men and the children will still have to work out how they can all live together without driving one another completely nuts. At least Arturo and Alessandro come to realise that they must put their self-interests aside if they are to make their relationship work and be able to care for the children.

While the plot tends to be rather patchy and has the look of several skits sewn together with a few seams and loose ends showing, the film’s characters and themes hold them together. A strong theme is acceptance of the random curve-balls that life throws at people and helps to make them and their connections with one another stronger – if they recognise the opportunity presented. The film makes constant reference to the Goddess of Fortune who throws such curve-balls at Arturo and Alessandro. The challenge for them both is how they use chance occurrences in their lives as opportunities for growth – provided they recognise them as such in time.