Italian film saves the best for ‘Last Kiss’

The majority of contemporary movies, particularly the plethora of popcorn flicks that aim solely to entertain, mostly portray characters in the prime of their youth. These characters have fun and exciting lives, and their apparent freedom from the responsibilities that normally crop up as youth fades – serious relationships, marriage, parenting – makes their lives all the more fun. They can do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.

Keeping all this in mind, Italian director Gabriele Muchino poses this question in “The Last Kiss”: what happens to people who are teetering between carefree youth and responsibility-laden adulthood, and those who are absolutely terrified of tumbling into the latter?

“The Last Kiss” tells the story of four male friends in their early 30s who are anxious at the prospect of giving up the self-indulgent lifestyle of youth for a stable adulthood. Of the four, Adriano and Carlo are the most poignantly affected by this fear. Adriano’s phobias have more or less already been realized: he has a baby with his longtime girlfriend Livia, which has squelched any traces of romance between him and Livia and made his life more narrow and difficult.

Carlo fears that the same fate will await him in six months, when his own girlfriend, Giulia, gives birth. As the film progresses, the friends find different ways to allay their mutual fear. Carlo’s method of doing this is particularly dangerous. After meeting an 18-year-old, Francesca, at another friend’s wedding, he becomes obsessed with her. Carlo becomes increasingly distant from Giulia, who, being the intuitive sort, becomes increasingly suspicious of him.

The film does an excellent job of delving into the different aspects of Carlo’s adulterous fascination; it does not attempt to simplify it. Carlo’s fear, lust, guilt, excitement and neuroses are all portrayed at different points; the audience comes to understand that he knows what he’s doing is wrong, but can’t seem to stop himself.

His emotional state is portrayed mostly through the cinematography. The director Muchino employs brief scenes and fast cuts, jumping from one situation to the next and moving the camera in swift, jerky motions. This rapidly-paced style leaves the audience feeling the same way Carlo does: both panicked and anticipatory, with no idea what’s going to happen next.

The film also makes repeated use of a wonderful cinematic device – it shows Carlo thinking about one woman while he’s with the other by having both women simultaneously on camera. This device could be cheesy, but the way the girl who’s not truly there hovers in the background, wrapped in dark lighting, makes her seem almost ghostly and gives the impression that Carlo’s guilt and indecision are haunting him. At one point, he’s lying in bed with Giulia and Francesca’s image appears next to him and whispers, “Are you thinking of me?” The effect is harrowing.

Yet while we identify with Carlo, the film is careful not to force sympathy for him. It merely portrays his actions without rationalizing them. It also leaves the question of why his fear of a stable adulthood drives him to such irrational actions ambiguous.

However, Carlo is the film’s most well-developed character. In doing such an excellent job of portraying him and allowing the camerawork to so completely match his psyche, the film shortchanges the other characters.

Only Paulo, one of Carlo’s friends whose fear of adulthood dovetails with his recent spilt from a serious girlfriend and his father’s severe illness, suggesting he wasn’t scared of accepting responsibilities until the responsibilities eluded him or became too painful to accept, is done even remotely comparable justice.

Carlo’s other friends, Adriano and Alberto, are fairly one-dimensional. Adriano’s stance on life could best be described as “Responsibility sucks, man!” He periodically talks about how despite everything, he loves being a daddy, but his actions in the film don’t give this claim any validity.

For the most part, the actions in this film speak louder than the dialogue, which is colloquial and realistic but not particularly interesting, although, since the film is in Italian, that may be the fault of the subtitled translation and not the screenwriter.

Alberto is portrayed as a stoner who’s willing to sleep with anyone in a skirt with spare time. Francesca, Carlo’s personal Lolita, never develops into anything more than a giddy girl with an intense crush. Giuila is a somewhat better developed.

Through the way in which she figures out that Carlo is straying, we learn that she is smart, stubborn and decisive. However, nine out of ten female characters in modern cinema fit that description. She never steps out of the “wronged girlfriend” role to become an original person.

The film sometimes shifts to a subplot involving Giulia’s mother Anna, who also wants to reclaim her youth; she attempts to walk out on her husband to do so. The point of this subplot is more or less unclear until the end, when Anna helps Giulia decide what to do about Carlo. With this, Anna becomes a necessary character, but the way in which she is necessary seems like too easy a way to resolve the film – the same ending could have been reached in much more original ways.

Although “The Last Kiss” has its flaws, in the end, its pluses outweigh its minuses. The audience only truly gets to know one character, but the way we are introduced to him is original and intriguing. The movie leaves you still trying to figure out Carlo. Despite its problems, the film’s questions leave a lasting impression.