A sensitive exploration of the theme of friendship in the face of death, Ferzan Ozpetek’s ensemble piece “Saturn in Opposition” marks a return to form for the Italo-Turkish director after the bizarre sidestep of his quasi-religious parable, “Sacred Heart.” At his best describing the complicated relations between people, which made his “Facing Windows” so watchable, Ozpetek here brings a similarly smooth, technically well-heeled look to a narrative that suffers from a lack of dramatic urgency. Nonetheless, domestic box office could approach the director’s previous highs, benefitting from the pic’s tangential but timely tie-in to the issue of legalized gay marriage.
The sympathetically drawn, unthreatening gay characters here are practically an advertisement for this hot political topic. Abroad, the film’s biggest selling point, as with “Steam: The Turkish Bath” and “Ignorant Fairies,” is its relaxed, modern approach to gay characters and lifestyle, unusual for an Italian film. The mix of straight and gay stories, though, should broaden its appeal to a slightly wider niche.
Outgoing, gorgeous 30-year-old Lorenzo (Luca Argentero) is the live-in partner of successful author Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino). They happily spend their time with a circle of intimates: Antonio (Stefano Accorsi) and Angelica (Margherita Buy), a married couple with kids; sunny cokehead Roberta (Ambra Angiolini); Davide’s acerbic ex Sergio (Ennio Fantastichini) and equally biting friend Neval (Serra Yilmaz) and her policeman husband (Filippo Timi); and newcomer Paolo (Michelangelo Tommaso).
First part of the film struggles to bring these ill-matched friends into focus, making much ado about their ferocious loyalty to each other. But there is little storyline on which to hang the characters’ quirks, until Lorenzo is rushed to the hospital one night with a cerebral hemorrhage, leading to a warm and fuzzy, but quite moving, group mourning scene, played against the odd counterpoint of dance music.
Brought together by the emergency, the group becomes more interesting to watch and size up. The cloudless relationship between Lorenzo and Davide, forcibly interrupted by illness, stands in sharp contrast to the stormy breakup of Antonio and Angelica, when the former guilelessly confesses he is having an affair with another woman (Isabella Ferrari.)
The sudden appearance of Lorenzo’s estranged father (Luigi Diberti) adds another, more traditional perspective as he belatedly attempts to come to terms with his son’s homosexuality. One of the best-written and -acted characters is his second wife Minnie (Lunetta Savino), a lighthearted provincial woman of blunt words.
Ozpetek shows a confident, light touch in directing the large cast, so neatly balanced that no one really stands out. Stars Favino, Accorsi and Buy are able players unable to soar in rather abstract roles. Other characters, like Yilmaz’s Turkish friend and Milena Vukotic’s head nurse, are pleasant enough to watch but undeveloped.Tech work goes for a clean, somewhat bland look, underlined by Massimiliano Nocente’s elegantly appointed Italian interiors where nothing is out of place, children’s rooms included. In marked contrast to Gianfilippo Corticelli’s classy and at times highly expressive lensing, the soundtrack by Giovanni Pellini (aka Neffa) takes a positively kinky approach to the drama, with a heavy emphasis on lively Spanish and French-sounding tunes.