›› Ignorant Fairies - Le Fate Ignoranti - aka His Secret Life ‹‹

a film by Ferzan Özpetek.

2001 | 106 mins | Italy.

a deeply touching testament to the power of love.

Dave says:

From the director of the exquisite tale of gay sexual awakening that is Hamam: The Turkish Bath, comes this equally assured work of discovery.

Yet it's a discovery of a different kind that's destined to forever change the life of Antonia (Margherita Buy). Already used to the life and death reality found in her work as a doctor dealing with AIDS, such a medical background was of little solace to her when faced with the news of the sudden death of her husband Massimo (Andrea Renzi). With a mother (Erika Blanc) too emotionally direct to be of any comfort, Antonia copes with grief the best she can, along the way taking to drink and anti-depressants to get through the day, until her curiosity gets the better of her when in going through Massimo's belongings, she comes across a copy of the painting Le Fate Ignoranti, together with a dedication to Massimo: "for the seven years we've spent together." Realizing that the man she loved was leading a double life, Antonia sets out to confront the woman her late husband equally shared his nights with, only to discover that the third person was a man.

Shocked and repulsed at first, Antonia's feelings however soon turn to intrigue, as she yearns to know what her husband saw in his male lover Michele (Stefano Accorsi) and in turn his parallel life of gay, straight and transgendered friends, in the process becoming close to them and in particular to HIV positive Ernesto (Gabriel Garko). Yet just as she helps Ernesto on the road to recovery and in the process to live each day for all its worth, Antonia opts to move on herself with a raison d'Ítre that no one could have foreseen.

Co-written with Gianni Romoli, here we find Özpetek delight in creating a multi-layered work, aided by an invigorating score from Andrea Guerra and a cast who wonderfully capture the emotional turns of their respective characters, even if and for some this could equate to a feature with one too many players, with one and all almost competing with each other for prominence, only for some to appear detached from the whole. That said and as much as Accorsi shines as Massimo's openly gay lover, albeit in an at times unsympathetic persona, the star of the show remains Buy who gives an achingly moving, yet natural performance of a woman coming to terms with both the unexpected demise of her husband and the reality of his love for another man, even if you kind of suspect that Garko's sensitive portrayal of Ernesto is the character most close to the heart of the director, as too that of Serra Yilmaz as her namesake.

Given such, it's no surprise that this reflective feature is laced with a plethora of emotions; from those of loss, betrayal and animosity to intense feelings of attraction, love and friendship. It's an emotional cocktail that's beautifully mixed, with Özpetek going out of his way to showcase the bitter enmity both parties initially feel toward each other, before realizing that they have more in common than just their memories of Massimo.

Intercut with footage of the preparations for the World Pride 2000 festival held in Rome, complete with scenes of the celebration itself during the closing credits; an event that let us not forget was staged in the face of major religious and political opposition, the result is a film that in spite of this is not a political statement. Rather this is a work about secrets; that of the unspoken secrets people harbour that all too often give way to lies and of which many a character here is keeping close to their chest. All of which makes for a deeply touching testament to the power of love and the will to move on with your life, whilst keeping those you love who are no longer with you, forever in your heart. Simply wondrous.

Postscript: In 2022 Le Fate Ignoranti was picked up by the Hulu / Disney network and developed into an eight part Italian television series, complete with Yilmaz reprising her original role. As I have not seen this series; I reserve judgement.

›› available on DVD as part of the PARASOL PICTURES RELEASING / PPR catalogue: 3rd November, 2003 / UK.
›› screened as part of the 16th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival / 2002.
›› revised: Friday, 28th April, 2023.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - from the waist up | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

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